U.S. universities offer better pay and more opportunities for top-flight academics
The first time he visited the University of Pennsylvania, in the 1980s, British-born Brendan O'Leary was unimpressed. The ride from the airport was depressing and the Philadelphia winter harsh.
"It wasn't the best introduction," O'Leary recalled.
After becoming a star political scientist at the London School of Economics, O'Leary accepted an invitation from Penn to be a visiting professor for 2001-02.
Penn, like other major American research universities, has increasingly gone after the best scholars from around the world. Elite private colleges and large state universities have determined they must grow or fall behind, and growth can best be accomplished by expanding the playing field.
Offering the incentives of higher salaries, a clearer path to tenure, better opportunities for research, and wider markets for scholarly articles and books, U.S. universities are lust objects for a wide swath of foreign faculty.
Many of the best imports have come from Europe - particularly England, Germany and France - where universities have become poor handmaidens, making do after cuts in state subsidies triggered by the economic downturn in the 1990s.
The number of new international graduate students enrolling in U.S. universities - many of whom later vie for faculty positions - rose 1 percent last year after three years of decline, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.
At U.S. schools, foreign teachers are often the cutting-edge experts in their fields. Language departments are keen to acquire native speakers. Leading educators and proponents of internationalization in higher education believe that college students are more likely to be global citizens if they are taught, in part, by non-Americans.
"Internationalization is crucial to the very mission of higher education - we need to ensure that our students are well-equipped for the challenges of a global world," said Marlene Johnson, executive director of NAFSA, a Washington advocacy group for international educators.
"Students need to be reinforced with the notion that different perspectives of the world - different cultural views - are part of their learning," she said.
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