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Entries in education (11)


China's rising pool of college grads - and expectations

NYT story on the 8m college grads that China cranks each year at the cost of about $250B a year.

The comparison that comes to mind is the US post-WWII and the remaking of society and politics that ensued (think of all that change across the 1960s and 1970s).

Yet another reason why I stick with my prediction that China is democratized by 2030.  This article speaks more of economic strengths than challenges, but the real danger (which appears only when you get to the jump page) are the social expectations and - if they are met - the resulting political confidence that will be hard to manage on a mass basis.

When people make the effort and sacrifice for that degree, the same-old, same-old factory job won't do.  This forces China into a race up the production ladder alright, and that fits the nation's desire to base more future growth on domestic consumption.  But that desire forces a progressive agenda to fix their healthcare and pension problems, which are not all that different from the US in their ability to mess up economic growth.  In China's case, the two issues combine to depress consumption by forcing individuals to save mightily against fate's whims. So if the government wants all that domestic consumption-led growth to make all those white-collar jobs happen so all those college grads can be happy (and not too disruptive politically), then major government efforts along the "great society" trajectory will be forced by all these dynamics.

Even if China pulls all that off, and then suffers the natural slow-down in growth that occurs when you start better covering the needs of the left fortunate (Freudian slip, as I meant less unfortunate) in society (a costly proposition), then you move into the next tier of problems:  all those college grads now making it and living complex lives will bristle at being spoken down to regarding political debates and government transparency.  We saw this big time in South Korea roughly a generation ago.  China is now 10-15 years (at best) from confronting that fabulous problem.

All of this is to say that, if you imagine that China somehow becomes truly powerful down the road but will still look like today's single-party state, you'd be wrong by every experience of history that we know.  Once you embrace the markets and all the other great aspects of modern society, the politics must change in reponse - eventually.  Yes, the Chinese are adept at postponing that reality.  

But it will not be postponed forever.

A truly strategic thinker worries about handling a democratizing China down the road more than some single-party state.  A single-party state is inherently cautious; it cannot suffer a genuine overseas debacle because there is no throw-the-bums-out dynamic to stabilize the system.  But a democratizing China looks more like the rising US of the late 19th century.  I personally don't foresee that being an unmanageable problem, given all the domestic issues that China will still be finessing throughout that transition, but it will definitely be a new and different China "challenge."


The Apprentice . . . without that jackass Trump

Fascinating WSJ piece from a few days back describing how German companies excel at training up their poorly prepared new workers so well that they're starting to spread their best practices globally.  It's basically a revival of classic apprenticeship training, and apparently German firms like VW are so good at it that companies and states and the fed in the US are looking to copy their methods.


There are 600,000 skilled, middle-class manufacturing jobs in the US that are - get this! - currently unfillable.

The VW HR person's blunt statement:

We've learned it is better to build our own workforce instead of just relying on the market.

VW's apprenticeship program runs 3 years.

I've gotten asked such questions about the US education system for years at my briefings all over America.  And I've always answered with some variation on the need for companies to both train up poorly prepared workers and reach down into educational systems to do much the same (what if VW oversaw the same sort of thing - for profit - at the right colleges/votec/institutes/etc.?).

But I've never actually come across an MSM article that captured it like this one does.


In Germany, nearly two-thirds of the country's workers are trained through partnerships among companies, technical schools and trade guids. Last year, German companies took on and trained nearly 600,000 paid apprentices

Nice numerical symmetry there - huh?

Story talks also about Charlotte community college that is pursuing the same sort of collaboration with 18 local firms - mostly European.  As one German exec put it:

We think we've found the missing link in the education system between high school and starting college.

In the U.S., falling into that gap costs lifetime earnings that are stunning.

This seems like a way of filling in that void.

It's one of those everything-old-is-new-again stories.


So why the strategic mistrust?

WSJ story and chart about how "Chinese applicants flood U.S. graduate schools."

 Of interest in the analysis:

The rate of growth in China is due in part to a concerted effort by some U.S. schools to attract Chinese studens.  The thinking, say school administrators, is that international student who stay in academia will connect U.S. schools with new research partners, while those entering the corporate world may become clients of business schools' executive education programs.

Would that the Pentagon was this strategic in its thinking.

No, I'm not just talking about Chinese officers in our professional military educational institutions.  I'm talking about purposefully seeking to raise future partners instead of indulging in this feel-good strategic "pivot" that is already being handled by arms exports to China's neighbors.

Amidst all that, we should be extending a hand - not a missile shield.


Deficit myths: it's still all about healthcare, so Obama was right to work it. And yet, I want him gone in 2013 [WITH ADDENDUM]


Got asked in Belvoir this last week about the present situation in US and what must be done.  I answered by citing my own household economy as microcosm:


  • Far more competitive world means earning potential is harder to achieve;
  • That income "haircut" means past debt patterns unsustainable, thus the deleveraging that continues (done better by individuals, families, firms, everybody but the Fed Gov!);
  • Housing is key (our move to short sale old house was big financial achievement of 2011), and curing that is key to allowing workers to move (that's why we did it this year, while the right constellation of circumstances presented themselves, in preparation for eventual 2014 move back East for job-related purposes);
  • Education is key (I pay 7 tuitions: 2 preschool, 2 grade school, 1 HS, 1 undergrad and 1 grad) to maintaining future possibilites, so investment trumps damn near everything; and yet,
  • Healthcare is huge drain (I pay my own now and the pre-tax cost, by my estimate, is between $30-40,000, meaning that's how I gotta earn to cover it all from stem to stern).


So larger reality for US not unlike my family: we had to scale back everything to preserve what matters, which is healthcare and education; we had to solve the housing situation to allow for renewed labor mobility; we haven't really seen our standard of living go down at all, and yet we've made wrenching changes to be able to live on a much smaller consumption footprint. All tough adjustments, but incredibly worthwhile.

But again, healthcare is huge and seemingly unassailable from my perspective. We are exceedingly careful about how we spend those dollars, even as that's the last thing - besides education - that we want to scrimp on.

Of course, if we don't have six kids, then my life is dramatically simpler on all scales, but there again, what keeps America strong?  Demographics, so that's worthwhile too.

Citation here is Alan Blinder op-ed in WSJ.  Great stuff.

"Four deficit myths":


  1. Americans now demand deficit reduction like never before. Not true.  Jobs matter far more now, as does healthcare and housing. Just understand, polls on this subject are no more definitive than they were 20-30 years ago.  This is not our current obsession.
  2. Our deficit is so bad right now that massive cuts are required immediately. Also not true. We have no trouble selling debt in this global economy. Yes, long-term deficit issue is acute, but key is setting in place conditions for long boom that takes care of that. See Europe for austerity approach.
  3. The ten-year reduction focus makes sense. Bad thinking. Little can and will be accomplished in any 10-year plan. The problem if far longer in scope - see demographics, and thus the solutions must be similarly gauged.
  4. America has a generalized problem of runaway spending. Very untrue. The only part of the Fed budget that's really exploding is Medicare and Medicaid, so it's still mostly about healthcare.


In short, "we have a humungous healthcare problem."

Anybody familiar with the US defense budget has long said the same thing: we don't have operations or acquisition or training or personnel crises. The "imperial overstretch" argument remains complete academic bullshit.  We primarily have a healthcare crisis that is extended into pension system. Everything else pales.

In my family right now, the biggest short-term threat, now that we're mortgage free and successfully deleveraging across the board, is healthcare. Huge drain.  Big uncertainty. Encourages self-defeating avoidance behavior on many levels (which we try desperately to be smart about). Leaks into everything.

When GOP says Obama went off deep end on healthcare because country didn't want that or didn't elect him for that, they miss the mark.  It is clearly the biggest internal challenge we face - short and long term. It is the hidden villain on everything. Saying it was a diversion is - itself - a diversionary election-centric tactic.  

But still, I would trust a Romney to finesse its implementation better than an Obama, whose political and negotiating skills I no longer respect, and whose stunning ignorance of, and antipathy toward, business has become an unacceptable leadership flaw - given the tough adjustments still to come.

And yes, I LOVE that Romney did it first in Massachusetts - and did it intelligently. That is a huge credentializer in my mind.

Americans' distrust and anger toward globalization and big business is stunningly misplaced. Globalization has made the world so much better, but it now challenges us in ways we've long gotten used to avoiding because of our long-term privileged position in the global economy, which itself reflected gross historical injustices stemming from colonialization, WWII, socialism in the East, etc. None of those things were our fault, and we took the lead in overcoming them all, but we did live in a pretend world of superiority on that basis across the second half of the 20th century.

That world is gone, and good riddance, say I, because it was supremely unfair to the majority of the planet, and I don't want to live in this world by exploiting others unnecessarily.

So our succees in spreading American-style globalization now comes back to haunt us, demanding we adjust. That's not about demonizing business, even as it is about cleaning up some incredibly bad form on Wall Street (a regular task, just bigger this cycle). It's also not about demonizing China, who is our biggest ally in the global economy going forward - like it or not.

Romeny will say stupid things on China to win the GOP nomination. Obama is already doing stupid things. On the business, it's clear who's hostile and who's not.

Looking ahead, I want a dealmaker, a difference-splitter, a realist on business who acts based on experience and not sterile theory. I also want somebody who can rationalize our military budget and global presence without resorting to idiotic, default targeting of the Chinese.

Romney is far from ideal on all those scores, but he does beat Obama, in my mind, on every one of them.

I stil maintain Obama was the best choice of the two in 2008. I would still vote for him all over again, given the repeated chance. I do think America, however, would have been much better served by a Hillary presidency (I voted for her in the primary), and since I can't get that this time around, I'll make do with the alternative, who I think will have a far better chance of working with a Republican House and Senate than Obama will - given overall Boomer political proclivities (most Boomer politicians are just above cartoon-grade in their motivations, skills and intelligence).

No, I would take Obama over the two jokers (Santorum and Paul) and the complete wild card (Gingrich). And yes, this would be my first vote for a GOP presidential candidate in my entire life.

And my logic on all this if decidedly unemotional (can I toss in that I'm the father of two African-come-to-America daughters, just to be safe?).

This isn't personal in the least; this is strictly business.


I don't use that political term of art (anti-business), because I don't think it's true. I don't think his policies have been particularly anti-business.

I think he doesn't understand business (ignorance) and on that basis tends to vilify and scapegoat business (antipathy) for our continuing poor recovery. The silliness over "taxing millionaires and billionaires" is, to me, just rhetorical nonsense. Those people pay plenty, but no matter how much more we tax them (I am indifferent on the subject), it won't change our fundamental issues. So, to me, rolling with political gamesmanship like that says serious change isn't what he's looking for, otherwise he would have gone with Bowles-Simpson and not ignored what everyone said were sound recommendations.

I also cite the ignorance issue for what I consider to be generally bad-for-business-but-bad-for-everybody-else-too policies in combating the crisis. The administration just hasn't done enough to encourage deleveraging throughout the economy, instead preferring stimulus spending to cure a financially-driven overhang crisis, which, per Rogoff, is the wrong medicine chasing the wrong disease.

I won't claim to have tracked the US economy enough to have said, I told you so way back when, because I most certainly did not. But it's hard for me to accept that a guy as smart as Obama couldn't find enough people around him who were smart enough to realize that stimulus splurging after a financial crisis only gets you a follow-on fiscal crisis without actually improving the financial hang-over/debt overhang. They still don't seem to get that, and as long as they don't, I think business will hold off on investment and hiring because consumers are forced to keep their spending low (I certainly am).

So all I am left assuming is that he doesn't know business (ignorance) and made patently bad choices out of some antipathy to business (it is hard to advise the guy who's certain he's always the smartest guy in the room). I say that because business has largely argued for a far stronger deleveraging focus versus the path Obama has taken. That path did include bailouts for Wall Street firms (not sure history will be kind there) and Detroit (am certain history will be kind there and have said that throughout in posts and speeches - but there I cite the global car industry, which is something I have tracked).

Finally, if Obama were both smart on business and less into his business-can't-be-trusted mode, I think he would have pursued opening up the US economy to Chinese investment instead of staying stuck on the RMB's value and this bizarre strategic "pivot" to East Asia, where apparently our weaponry and national "will" is going to keep us economically engaged in the region despite openly targeting the biggest economy there, a country, by the way, that we expect to finance this military buildup in the Pacific. But that's just me saying I don't trust how he views or understands global business.

In general, I do think Obama is a smart guy, but he's displayed enough dumb/antipathy WRT business for me to want him swapped out versus keeping him another four years. The global economy right now is in fairly precarious shape, and I don't see his administration being able to work with a GOP congress over the next four years any better than he has the past 3. We can say it's all GOP hostility but Bill Clinton managed that, and Reagan did with the Dems. Obama is just not that guy. He matches the GOP's Manichean view with too much of his own, along with a pride and self-confidence in his supreme intelligence that I think is his biggest weakness.

We've have world-class brain presidents (Hoover, Carter, Obama) and they manage to have attract hard economic times. I have come to greatly prefer emotionally intelligent presidents (FDR, Reagan, Clinton) or incredible dealmakers (Johnson, Nixon). That's why I will take Romney and his blandness and his difference splitting and flip-flopping and non-agenda. I want a manager who moves the process along for the next four years, rather than the perceived/actual ideologue who attracts more fight than he's worth and isn't clever enough to realize when he needs to bend instead of stand proud.


Chart of the Day: Chinese students continue to flood US schools

An interesting trend amidst the general deterioration of relations (of course, officially, everything is wonderful), and reflective of a growing middle class in China able to pay for overseas education.

But it also shows that far-sighted Chinese prefer the sort of "questioning"/critical thinking education that the US offers over the more rote version offered at home.  Last time I was in China, I heard that directly from college execs: they feared they just weren't developing the students the country needed.

Of course, that sort of academia would be harder to control, so China effectively outsources the function.  That does delay the eventual impact of making so many critical thinkers happen - but that's all.

Remember how the Middle East starting pushing so many young people into college across the last decade.  Yes, it kept off the streets for a while, but when they got back on the streets, my, were their expectations then even more "unreasonable."  The Arab Spring is a direct result of that.


Obama's stealthy education reform?

Jonathan Alter in Newsweek making the case that "U.S. education reform has made more progress in the last year than in the previous 10" and "how the president is driving the effort."

Cheesy start (the movie "Jackass" as feeble straw man) mars the piece.

The cited "engine of reform" is Obama's Race to the Top program.  Small pot of money but successful, says Alter, in establishing national standards and lifting state caps on charter schools.

Other details covered, but political case made is that it took a "Nixon" (liberal Dem) to effectively do battle with teachers' unions.

To be watched . . ..


The narrowing definition of success in China

Newsweek blurb noting how China's top schools increasingly draw overwhelmingly from the urban elite.

Insider estimates on Tsinghua and Peking U (the MIT and Harvard of China's universities, respectively) say that only about 1% of the students hail from rural areas, which is amazing considering that close to half of the population live there.  That kind of set-up means somebody like me (hailing from Boscobel, population 2,200 and decidedly rural) never gets into a Harvard (where some local snobs asked me, upon my arrival, how long I'd been in the country).  

This doesn't mean rural kids don't get into universities, just that they're overwhelming restricted to the lesser schools.  In the past, standardized tests meant a certain portion of rural kids got into top universities, but today a lot of other attributes are considered--like foreign language skills, which favor the urban elites.

Bottom line:  the party elite will increasingly grow out of touch with the common man if this educational trend continues.


Disney's penetration of Asia goes way beyond theme parks

pic here

FT front-pager on Disney expanding its language schools in China, with a goal of almost 150 schools and $100m in revenue. By 2015, it wants to be training 150k Chinese kids each year.

The curriculum features Disney characters, obviously.  A growing Chinese middle class "means there is no shortage of parents willing to pay $2,200 a year for tuition of two hours a week." 

I heard that last bit in spades from the Gymboree international franchise operators: there is almost no limit to what parents will pay in emerging markets to get their kids ahead of the pack--typical of countries on the rise.

The hidden benefit is also fairly obvious, as far as Disney is concerned:

But the schools also enable Disney to forge a bond with a new generation of consumers who may be unaware of the company's characters and stories.

This is crucial because gov quotas on foreign films restrict Disney's marketing there.


Education follows the flag

Bloomberg BusinessWeek profile of John Sexton, president of NY University, who, with the help of Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Al Nahyan, is trying to franchise his institution in the Persian Gulf.

Sexton's dream:  a circulating experience for students that connects them to six world-class universities spread around the world, with NYU as the anchor.

Sexton's use of foreign money to fuel global expansion is considered a model.  NYU has only a $2.2B endowment, or $50k a student.  Harvard's numbers are more like $26B and $1.3m per student.

My takeaway:  A lot of US universities going into countries that are friendly with us militarily.  It's a huge investment for both sides, so you want to go with people whom you have long and strong relationships, and with whom you're pushing connectivity.


Qatar as a Singapore-like, progressive model for the region?

Hopeful trend described in WSJ piece.


A seven-year school revamp spearheaded by this gas-rich emirate's first lady is emerging as test case for radical education overhauls in the Mideast.

The United Nations and World Bank have long blamed low educational standards for contributing to economic stagnation and instability across the region, which faces the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world and the threat of growing religious extremism.

Schoolteachers across the region have been bound by entrenched programs that emphasize religion and rote learning, often from outdated textbooks. Qatar, with a tiny population and outsize natural-gas export revenue, launched a new system in 2004 that stresses problem-solving, math, science, computer skills and foreign-language study. The final slate of new schools in the program was approved last month, giving Qataris over 160 new schools to choose from when the next school year begins in September.

"The old system churned out obedient but passive citizens. What good is that for a global economy?" says first lady Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned.

The daughter of a renowned Qatari democracy activist and the mother of seven children, including the crown prince, Sheikha Mozah cites personal and national reasons for the overhaul of the education system. "We don't want passive citizens. I didn't want passive children either," she says.

By the end of this year, officials say all Qatari children will be taught at new schools under the new system, and the nation's teachers will have been re-trained or forced to retire.

The transition hasn't always been smooth. Like its neighbor Saudi Arabia, Qatar lists the conservative Salafi school of Islam as its official religion, and radio talk shows and imams here have held fiery discussions about whether the schools are "un-Islamic" for teaching some subjects in English, not Arabic, and for providing music classes.

Yet rising test scores among Qatari children enrolled in the new schools suggest a potential model for other Arab education officials struggling to raise standards to those comparable to the U.S., Europe and Asia. According to a recent, two-year study funded by Qatar and conducted by the Rand Corp., children enrolled in the fourth through sixth grades in the new schools outperformed peers who attended the old Education Ministry-run schools in mathematics and science and language skills.

"Qataris value education … [but] we are a society that respects tradition," says Sheikha Mozah. "We've had to find the right pace to accomplish our goals."

The passive theme is huge:  that's how you keep women down and men stupid, with religion filling the gaps.

Rest of the piece focuses on the replicability of Qatar's experiment across the rest of the region.  The usual "uniqueness" argument is cited, along with the fact that Qatar is such a stunningly globalized little space (1m outsiders and 300m actual citizens) and so damn rich (per capita at $121k!).

Still, the whole deal with Singapore was the demonstration effect--not to be underestimated.


A fundamental difference between Chinese and US education

Lovely bit:

Zheng Yue, a young woman from China who is teaching her native language to students in this town on the Oklahoma grasslands, was explaining a vocabulary quiz on a recent morning. Then a student interrupted.

“Sorry, I was zoning out,” said the girl, a junior wearing black eye makeup. “What are we supposed to be doing?”

Ms. Zheng seemed taken aback but patiently repeated the instructions.

“In China,” she said after class, “if you teach the students and they don’t get it, that’s their problem. Here if they don’t get it, you teach it again.”

China, we are told, wants to teach the world Mandarin, so it's sending several hundred teachers here to teach in US schools, subsidized by the Chinese government.  US school administrators visit Chinese schools in reply.

I think this is inevitable and good, strengthening bold sides and increasing understanding.  It is hard to imagine a global culture a generation hence that isn't as infiltrated by Chinese and today's is by Japanese--the exporters of cool.  Nothing quite makes a culture feel secure in its own accomplishments than to have their ways incorporated by other cultures.