I was asked this question during a recent meeting with representatives of a top-ranked Hong Kong university. I soon learned that Hong Kong’s eight major universities are seeking to hire about 1,000 new faculty as quickly as possible!
When educators in Hong Kong and China talk about their plans for growth, it’s hard not to appear dumbfounded. Thinking of the sudden, massive retirements at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the struggling U.S. economy, the deteriorating public support for higher education across the United States, and unyielding demands that we must do more with less, I could only blink and nod my head. But I needed an answer for my Hong Kong friends: Yes, we have Ph.Ds available.
At the end of a two-week trip to China and Hong Kong to attend conferences and foster relationships, two themes stand out. First, all major universities in China are building or have just built grand, well-financed campuses to handle an influx of students, both domestic and international. Second, China has embraced the conviction that education is the key to everything. Both of these themes contrast starkly with the reality in America, where universities are facing cutbacks of hundreds of millions of dollars and higher education increasingly is taken for granted.
All is not lost: We still have greater flexibility, which allows students to change majors and rethink goals. We still are better at teaching critical thinking. We still have academic freedom protected by tenure. We still have a tradition of excellence and the brand of our storied universities. (I must note that the University of Wisconsin has tremendous brand recognition across China.)