I begin by noting three articles (from among many similar ones that have appeared) and a personal interaction that raise important questions for higher education:
California visual effects firms facing a bleak landscape
Foreign locales are luring away productions and work with tax credits and cheaper labor, causing once-successful companies to close.
This is the headline of an article in the LA Times describing the financial plight of many California visual effects firms. Lower costs elsewhere, growth of worldwide pools of talent, and widespread availability of cutting edge technology are the villains. The jobs being lost are high paying, and involve very high levels of skill.
The technology represents the cutting edge of filmmaking, involving teams of digital artists trained in 3-D modeling, computer animation and computer graphics....
California-trained visual effects artists are still in demand, but often now have to travel overseas for work.
Where are the jobs? For many companies, overseas
This article on Yahoo News tells us that US corporations are hiring rapidly - just not in the US.
The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S....
American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated — think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes.
And now many of the products being made overseas aren't coming back to the United States...
"Companies will go where there are fast-growing markets and big profits," says Jeffrey Sachs, globalization expert and economist at Columbia University. "What's changed is that companies today are getting top talent in emerging economies, and the U.S. has to really watch out."
Indian Outsourcing Companies Think Strategy Even as Pressure Mounts
Third, an article from India Knowledge@Wharton talks about the evolution of the Indian outsourcing industry. It seems that the "next big thing" there is Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO).
Jui Narendran, business head (sourcing practice) of market research firm Value Notes, describes KPO as services that "constitute certain specialized functions like financial services, legal and publishing outsourcing, some parts of training and education outsourcing as well as high-end analytics including insurance, finance and banking."
According to Arihant Patni, founder and director of Bodhi Global, the hot spots are in legal processes, architectural design, engineering design and application development for gaming and mobile devices.
In other words, focusing on providing services that require advanced education and skills- at lower costs than are possible in the US.
And finally, a personal experience. I use a very nice and well managed service to get to and from the airport that seems to be run by one or two individuals with help from their friends. I used the service last week, and got one of my usual drivers/owners, who is an emigrant to the the US. He got a bachelor's degree in computer science from a public university after arriving in the US, then went to work for a tech company. Soon the company downsized as it outsourced activities to computer scientists abroad, and then he bounced around temporary job to temporary job for awhile. Finally, he realizing he needed to do something that could not be offshored. Running a limo service fit the bill. He hopes his daughter will get a college education, but he fears that a college education will not be particularly helpful to her in making a living in the future. Instead, he emphasizes that she had better develop entrepreneural instincts that will help her work in an area that is difficult to offshore.
Evidence from all sides tells us that global competition is rapidly increasing in many arenas. In particular, a combination of rapidly increasing markets overseas and rapidly improving educational opportunities in those markets is creating unprecedented challenges for American workers. Many formerly "safe" jobs in the US that require high level skills are no longer safe as those skills become available in lower cost environments elsewhere. And the list of types of jobs that are at risk keeps growing with increasing skill levels in other countries, and ever improving communication technologies that enable workers to participate in projects from anywhere in the world.
As obvious as the problem is becoming, there is very little discussion about it in the current crisis in higher education in the US. The rhetoric generally tells us that the crisis in American higher education is a financial one, not an educational one. However, it seems increasingly clear that the educational goals we have set for ourselves and our students are the goals appropriate to 20th century United States that had few real economic competitors. Much of our education has assumed that our graduates would go into a profession, and work in that profession for one, or at most a few, companies during their lifetime. That assumption is increasingly incorrect. Many of the professions for which we train students are in a decline as their functions move overseas. Graduates are increasingly required to change the focus of their work (not just jobs) several times in their working lifetime. As has been noted before, the offshoring phenomenon continues to move up the educational scale. Consequently, more traditional education - which was the answer to many problems in the 20th century - is not necessarily the correct answer in the 21st century ( see earlier discussion in Offshoring moves up the educational ladder)
Thus one could argue that the real crisis in higher education is that we are educating students for the past, not the future. But other than " we have to prepare our students for globalization by introducing them to foreign countries and peoples", one hears very little discussion about what our students really need to be able to do to survive and thrive in this new, globally competitive world. Sending students abroad is easy compared to asking ourselves hard questions about fundamental educational objectives for the 21st century, and the organizational changes that might be required to achieve those objectives. However, it is time to address those hard questions if American higher education is to remain pertinent - and a model for the world - moving forward.