And while innovation depends in part on R&D (and design), education is at
its core. The US, with its legendary “gold standard” system of higher education,
now sits below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) average for the rate of university graduation. So does Canada.4 And the
trend over time is even more worrisome. University graduation rates in both
Canada and the US have barely budged in recent years, while the OECD average
graduation rate for universities nearly doubled from 1995 to 2007. Finland soared
from 20 percent to 48 percent. Switzerland rose from 9 percent to 31 percent.5
Countries with emerging economies are also seeing the results of massive
investments in higher education. In China, the number of people graduating
from universities and specialized colleges has more than quadrupled since 2000.6
And the so-called BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South
Africa—tripled their production of scientific articles in the decade between 1996
and 2007.7 As of 2006, Brazil, Russia, India, and China—four countries—awarded
half the number of doctorates awarded in all 30 OECD countries combined.8
Perhaps, it should come as no surprise then, that the US, the dominant
economic power in the world throughout our lifetime, recently lost ground
in prominent rankings of the world’s top economies. In the IMD 2010 World
Competitiveness Yearbook rankings, the US fell from number one in 2009
to number three in 2010 (behind Singapore and Hong Kong);9 in the World
Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, the US dipped from first
to second position in 2009 and dropped to fourth in 2010 (behind Switzerland,
Sweden, and Singapore).10 These statistics stand in dramatic contrast with the
focus being placed on education today. In the United States, with its current
economic climate, some states are implementing cuts of up to 50% in funding to
public universities.11 It is hard to imagine even holding steady, much less making
progress, in this context. While funding for post-secondary education is either
declining or not increasing, health care spending is massive and growing.
Indeed, in both of our countries health care spending—not health promotion
or improved health care delivery, but health care spending—has replaced
education as the dominant focus of politicians and policy makers. With our
universities under siege, it is easy to imagine a future in which our children may
be less educated than their parents—clearly not the direction we need to be
heading in the global information age. Perhaps it is our pride as nations that will
reverse these directions, but they will more likely be reversed by the unceasing,
articulate, and determined effort of every one of us with clear vision to influence
RLI 276
Ahead of the Storm: Research Libraries and the Future of the Research University
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