Graduate school to the rescue: how education abroad helps a nation’s future leaders. Part One.
Yesterday, in the initial post of this series, I promised to advance the hypothesis, “The education of future economic and political leaders abroad in graduate-level programs is a necessary (but not sufficient) step in any country’s continued economic and political development.” In today’s post I look at an empirical example of a graduate program that claims to provide future leaders with exactly the skills they need to help their countries make such progress: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government writes that “at the heart of our school lies an abiding commitment to advancing the public interest by training leaders.” This prestigious graduate program’s list of notable alumni indicates that it has had some success in its mission. Alumni include Ministers, Ambassadors, Senators and Presidents. Let’s hear again from the dean, Dr. David T. Ellwood:
Our graduates include: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon; World Bank President Robert Zoellick; Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon; Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; the first elected female president in Africa, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; and Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang.
According to the Kennedy School’s website, graduate-level education is a necessity today because “the greatest problems confronting our world today – from nuclear proliferation to climate change and entrenched poverty – are complex, interrelated and urgent. At Harvard Kennedy School,” the site goes on to proclaim, “we ask what we can do to solve them.”
Students at the Kennedy school come from 93 different countries. 403 students are “international,” a figure that represents almost 45% of the student body.
It’s not an inexpensive school. The yearly cost for a student is roughly $65,000. The 901-member student body contributes 38.7 million dollars per year to the school’s operating budget. Another $24.8 million comes from “sponsored revenue,” meaning funds provided by organizations in order to support students at the school (for example, the Kosovo American Education Fund currently has two students at the Kennedy School, and therefore KAEF makes up a tiny portion of that 24.8 million).
I bring up the Kennedy School and its “sponsored revenue” as a starting point in our discussion for a simple reason: to demonstrate that organizations and nations are very willing to spend vast amounts of money providing their citizens or their employees with a top-flight graduate education. They obviously believe that the value added by the education at the Kennedy School is “worth it” – meaning that the benefits of providing that education to a particular student will outweigh the short-term monetary cost.
Are they right? It seems to me that we are faced with two options in evaluating the Kennedy School and their students. Either:
- The Kennedy School provides an education so valuable that the high costs are worth paying. The “returns” to a country – expressed in the reform a graduate is able to generate upon returning to their nation or organization – are large enough to justify the large costs; OR
- The nations and organizations that support students at the school are mistaken. The value added by the education provided does not outweigh the costs. They are wasting their money.
I strongly suspect that the correct option is the first. And I want to point out that any argument that providing graduate education is somehow a waste must answer the following question: “If investing in graduate education for your citizens or employees is truly a waste of money, why do so many organizations do it?”
I believe that in fact providing graduate education is not a waste, and that the returns a country or organization receives from investing in one of its citizens or employees make schools like the John F. Kennedy School a very worthwhile investment.
What about you? Let’s conduct a small thought experiment. Let’s say that a distant relative, of whom you’ve never heard, sadly passes away and leaves you $1 million in his or her will. There is a condition, however. In order to claim the inheritance, you must immediately give half of it ($500,000) away to the education of your nations’ citizens. That education can be at any level, at any institution, in any country, so long as it goes directly to providing student learning.
How much of that $500,000 will you give to sponsor graduate students, if any? And of that amount, how much will you provide to sponsor graduate students at “elite” foreign universities? (Please provide any answers and reasoning in the “Comments” section, and I’ll share your thoughts in future posts).
My guess is that most people, when faced with the above thought experiment, will respond by giving very little to graduate students, and almost nothing to sponsor graduate students at foreign schools. My guess is that most people would direct the money to primary and secondary schooling. My guess, in other words, is that most people do believe that the organizations and nations sponsoring students at The Kennedy School are, in fact, mistaken - that the education provide by the School, while nice, is not nearly as important, or as good an investment, as more “basic” education for a larger number of people.
Having framed the question in this way, tomorrow we’ll investigate it further by looking at businesses that invest heavily in education, and the reasons that they do so.
Other posts in this series: