Higher education and competitiveness

Thanks to the Fundación de la Innovación Bankinter, I had a chance this last week to speak in Madrid on the issues facing higher education in Spain. To illustrate the relationship between higher education and national competitiveness I correlated the number of top universities (normalized by population) in each country with the country’s per capita income and its competitiveness.  Top universities were taken from the Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings, which are based on research output, and competitiveness indexes, from the World Economic Forum.

The following graphs show a strong relationship of 27% between the number of top universities and the country’s per capita income.  The relationship is even stronger (41%) between the number of top universities and its competitiveness.  The correlation with per capita income may raise questions of causality (it could well be that rich countries have better universities than poor ones because they can afford them).  But the strong correlation with competitiveness, an independent, forward-looking measure of the capacity of continuous productivity improvements into the future, would support the idea that strong universities may indeed be a factor in driving competitiveness.

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Here’s the distribution of top 300 universities per 10M population in the world:

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Challenges facing Spain's new government

Screen shot 2011-11-29 at 3.45.54 PMMy latest column, published on Saturday Nov. 26 by Spanish daily ABC (in Spanish), discusses the challenges Spain’s newly elected government will be facing.

For the last few months Spanish citizens, like Italians, Greeks and Americans, have taken to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the unfair impact of the financial crisis.  They are mad about how the pain of the financial crisis has impacted the bottom 99%, while the top 1% remains unscathed, how governments didn’t hold anyone accountable, or how governments remain in denial and kept wasting resources they didn’t have.

Spain’s new government will need to strike a delicate balance between the austerity that debt markets seem to demand to continue to lend, and the investments needed to transform the competitive model of the Spanish economy as well as the expenses needed to protect the unemployed and the retirees while until the economy kicks back in gear.  Now more than ever it is essential that public expenditures target the key areas (education and research, social transfers) and that efforts are made to reduce barriers to entrepreneurship.

But it is equally important that Spanish democracy be reformed to give a true sense of citizen participation and representation (beginning with party governance) if reforms are to be accepted.

I am still optimistic that Spain can emerge from today’s mess more prosperous and fair.

Thunderbird Global Business Dialogue: Great Quotes

6333713340_8218f6b6d7_bWhat a memorable two days at Thunderbird.  An incredibly inspiring inaugural Global Business Dialogue followed by a magical celebration hosted by trustee, alum and philanthropist Merle Hinrichs.

Here’s a list of a few pearls of wisdom from what turned out to be an incredibly enlightening Dialogue (other quotes available at Beth Cabrera’s blog):

“Leaders need to listen to the quietest voice in the room.” Robert W. Dudley, CEO, BP Group

“Denial is the worst enemy in crisis management.” Robert W. Dudley, CEO, BP Group

“If you want to be a leader, your responsibility is to serve.” Katherine Garrett-Cox, CEO and CIO Alliance Trust PLC

“When we hire people in our organization, we have an obligation to remove their barriers to success.” Marsha “Marty” Evans, Admiral (Ret.) U.S. Navy

“You cannot assume you will always hold the higher ground. Partnerships are crucial.” -R. Paul Kinscherff, CFO, International Finance, The Boeing Company

“The world will always accept talent with open arms. You can’t win unless you compete. A small deed done is better than a big deed planned.” Craig Barrett, Retired CEO/Chairman of the Board, Intel Corporation

“Hire the best educated, most creative people you can find and get the hell out of the way.” Craig Barrett, Retired CEO/Chairman of the Board, Intel Corporation

“Naming and shaming in social media is bringing the transparency necessary for us all to move forward.” Suhas Apte, VP Global Sustainability Kimberly-Clark

“Technology is not the barrier, imagination is!”- Shelly M. Esque President, Intel Foundation

“Financial literacy is the civil rights issue of our time. Without a bank account, you are an economic slave.”John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman and CEO Operation HOPE

“If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, you need to stop doing it. You aren’t living your truth.” John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman and CEO Operation HOPE

“Labels are for jam jars, not people.”Caroline Casey, Founder and Social Entrepreneur Kanchi

“We don’t all need to be Bono or Richard Branson to make a difference… Whatever you do, do it bloody well!”Caroline Casey, Founder and Social Entrepreneur Kanchi

“Go towards your fear. There is no greater power than moving through what you fear most.”Gayle Lemmon, Author “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

“Girls, ambition is not a dirty word. Don’t apologize for wanting to be out there!”Gayle Lemmon, Author “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

“The leaders of tomorrow need to be better equipped. They need to be listeners and need to be forever learners.”Jose Maria Figueres, Former President of Costa Rica

“There is no planet ‘B.’” Jose Maria Figueres, Former President of Costa Rica

“This is the time when we need value based leadership.” Manuel Sánchez, President and CEO, US Country Manager BBVA

“Delete “personal branding” from your vocabulary. Just be authentic.” -Brad Feld, Managing Director Foundry Group

“Customers are now the content creators. They are defining your brand, and that can make companies nervous.” Ekaterina Walter, Social Media Strategist Intel Corporation

“This world has been built on financial leverage, now it will be built on social leverage.” Mr. Howard Lindzon, Co-Founder and CEO StockTwits

“Just to annoy the Twitter people, I brought a newspaper.” -Jarl Kallberg, Director of Research and Professor of Global Finance Thunderbird School of Global Management

“Financial institutions tend to forget about what they can do to make the end users life better.” Carlos Danel, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President Compartamos Banco

“The idea of blaming the poor when really it was reckless risk-taking by the rich is outrageous. There needs to be engaging debate, not fights between the top one percent and the bottom 99 percent” -Matthew Bishop, Chief Business Writer/US Business Editor of The Economist

“Numbers + Creativity = Strategy.” Mr. Mark Penn, Worldwide CEO, Burson-Marsteller; CEO, Penn Schoen Berland

“I’m not a Thunderbird, but I wish I was one.”Mr. Mark Penn, Worldwide CEO, Burson-Marsteller; CEO, Penn Schoen Berland

My own take: humbled, inspired, enlightened, grateful. To all #tbird11 staff, faculty, volunteers, students, TGC, participants THANK YOU!!! – @CabreraAngel Angel Cabrera

Is Higher Education Being Disrupted?

Screen shot 2011-11-15 at 1.57.18 PMForbes sums up our panel on higher education at Techonomy yesterday in Tucson.  In a word, the gap between well established, traditional universities and up-and-coming for profit players does not seem to be narrowing.  Most of my colleagues on the traditional side, especially those with healthy endowments and selectivity ratios, believe things are fine, thank you, and are focusing and how to further improve their offerings for the small number of students they serve.  Meanwhile for profits continue to explore ways to drive scale without sacrificing quality.  If (or when) for profits figure out a way to strengthen their brands, traditional universities which do not act, are up for an interesting shake up.

Spanish comedians lift spirits, offer alternative narrative

Screen shot 2011-11-07 at 7.22.12 AMSpanish comedians Gomaespuma (Guillermo Fesser and Juan Luis Cano) paid me a visit last month as part of their latest experiment, Yo De Mayor Quiero Ser Español (When I Grow Up I Want To Be Spanish), a series of interviews with Spaniards doing interesting things in a variety of fields, whether in Spain or abroad.  Other interviewees include “British idol” sensation Ruth Lorenzo, several scientists/inventors, or chef José Andrés (and I believe Spanish soccer national team and Chelsea FC star Fernando Torres is coming up).

It’s almost impossible to stay serious with these guys (as you can see in the video of my interview aired by Spanish national TV).  Gomaespuma became incredibly famous among Spanish teenagers right after college (and later among everyone else when they made it to prime-time) with an irreverent show that transformed Spanish radio for good.  I have been one of their fans since my high school days in Madrid.

As I watch their series of interviews I realize they are really onto something.  Denial is no solution against a severe crisis, as Spain’s current government so painfully learned.  But depression and self-defeat isn’t either.  I applaud Gomaespuma for trying to change conversations, for pointing out that, even amid a crisis, everyday folks can do valuable things and be competitive internationally, for offering a different narrative that may hopefully inspire some to pursue innovative, entrepreneurial endeavors.

Climate change: whose problem is it?

Screen shot 2011-11-05 at 2.43.49 PMData from the World Bank shows that Americans, Chinese and Russians are among the world’s biggest climate change skeptics.  Less than a third of them believe climate change is a serious problem, and more than 20% believe it is not too serious or not a problem at all.  Interestingly, the three together accounted for almost half (46%) of total world emissions of CO2 in 2010 according to the U. S. Government’s own data (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center – U.S. Dept. of Energy).

China continues to lead the world in CO2 emissions, but on a per capita basis, the U.S. is still the biggest offender among medium and large nations.  On a per capita basis, the average American produced in 2010 50% more CO2 than the average Russian and almost 3 times more than the average Chinese.  The gap is even larger with other emerging countries: Americans beat Brazilians by a factor of 8 and Indians by 10.  Interestingly again, almost 2 in 3 Indians, and 3 in 4 Brazilians believe climate change is a very serious problem.

In what appears to be a dangerous case of cognitive dissonance, the nations that can make a dent in reducing our global carbon addiction don’t seem to have much interest in trying.

BizEd 10th Anniversary: Better Days Ahead in Business Education

Screen shot 2011-11-01 at 1.53.15 PMAACSB’s magazine BizEd asked ten long-serving heads of business schools to reflect on the evolution of business education since it was founded ten years ago.  In my piece I argue that the last decade has seen some of the worst damages bad management can cause.  But I’m also hopeful that business schools are showing signs that they are taking responsibility and action, including the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), and The Oath Project.

How much things can change in a decade! In October 2001, we learned that executives of the energy darling Enron had hidden billions in debt through accounting engineering and dishonest financial reporting. The scandal wiped out thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars in shareholder value, including the retirement assets of thousands of employees. It handed a death sentence to legendary accounting firm Arthur Andersen and led to the largest bankruptcy case in U.S. history.

Continue reading at BizEdmagazine.com.

Thunderbird will fly for us

2011-10-06 18.03.12On Thursday night, Campaign Chairs Barbara & Craig Barrett announced the successful completion of the Thunderbird Campaign: an effort to raise $65M in gifts and pledges by 2011 (our 65th anniversary) to support Thunderbird’s mission.   In a little over five years, thousands of alumni and friends around the world came together around a shared desire to invest in Thunderbird, to help this pioneering institution created in the heart of Arizona 65 years ago, to continue to educate global leaders who can bring about peace and prosperity around the world.

Like the rest of trustees attending the small, private celebration, I was humbled and moved.  This campaign means much more than $65M for all of us: it means 65 million expressions of commitment to our mission, of recognition of the daily work of our faculty and staff, of encouragement to keep finding new ways to change more lives around the world through education and thought leadership.

I can’t possibly document all that was said over the last three days, the tears, the gratitude, the generosity.  But I will leave you with one story, provided by one of our thousands of donors, an octogenarian, World War II veteran who, without any expectation of personal recognition, signed the biggest check we received.  We asked him why he chose to support Thunderbird.  This is his answer:

When I was a freshman in college, a young man enjoying life, I was asked to join the army to help my country and the world.  And so I did.  I was trained as a pilot in a place just like the Thunderbird field where we’re sitting today.  I flew, I fought and I was proud to make a difference.  As an old man, I want to keep helping my country and the world.  And what better way to do that than by helping Thunderbird train thousands of leaders from around the world who will help build a more secure, more peaceful and more prosperous world?  As an old man, I cannot fly anymore.  So I decided to let Thunderbird fly for me, to let Thunderbird fly forever.

Arizona's border, an invaluable asset

Screen shot 2011-09-30 at 11.20.55 AMArizona ought to look at its border, its Hispanic heritage and cultural ties with Latin America, as an asset, not a liability, and turn them into a source of competitive advantage in the global economy.  We need to change the public discourse, strengthen the State’s reputation south of the border, revitalize commercial ties and even set in place coordinated industrial policies.

The attached interview (in Spanish) was taped yesterday in the context of today’s Economic Outlook Conference with the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

Widening the educational net through innovation

Screen shot 2011-09-27 at 5.04.01 PMI was once again inspired by Shai Reshef during our panel discussion at The Economist “Ideas Economy” conference in New York, where he presented  of The University of the People concept and the progress they are making. Incredibly innovative approach to lower costs, increase reach and achieve inclusion.

My arguments had to do with the potential of technology to transform the education process, not only in terms of reach but quality, and most importantly, the need for a profound transformation of the traditional campus.  Perhaps the least valuable thing we can do in a lecture hall is to lecture.  There are many better (cheaper, more effective, more convenient) ways to convey knowledge.  And time on campus ought to be dedicated to activities that can best take place in person: applying knowledge, collaborating, discussing, building relationships.  Are we ready to meet these challenges?