November 10, 2005
David W. Leebron
The work of the Chinese Community Center (CCC) spans an amazing
breadth, from the education of the very young to the care of senior
citizens, from health care to Chinese instruction. It enriches the
cultural fabric of our great and diverse city, and for this work,
we all, both Chinese and non-Chinese, owe our deepest
The work of the CCC reflects its theme for this evening:
Education for All. What an important and appropriate theme!
Education is the great engine of opportunity in our society. It
also is, as Nelson Mandela said, "the most powerful weapon which
you can use to change the world." I don't know the origin of the
choice of this evening's theme, or what its precise intended
meaning was. Several possibilities struck me.
Education for All and Confucius
First, it is an especially appropriate theme for the Chinese
Community Center gala dinner, because in many ways the idea of
universal education, or at least universal educational opportunity,
can be traced back to Confucius. In fact, Confucius is the very
first entry in a book published three years ago,
ifty Major Thinkers on Education
. As he put it, "in education, there is no class distinction." I
wish I could say today that we have achieved in this country the
goal Confucius set.
However, we all know that, especially in education, class
distinction remains, both in racial and economic terms. The
opportunities for education and schooling simply are not the same
for the rich and the poor, and they are not equally available to
people of all ethnic and racial groups. Indeed, at the elite Ivy
League universities, the proportion of students who come from the
wealthiest families has increased rather than decreased over the
past decades. We can pass many laws with aspirational names, but
the facts are clear: We are leaving many children behind, and we
ought to be especially concerned about that here in Texas.
Confucius also saw the importance of education in building
better culture and character and in contributing to the improvement
of our world. Most importantly, he saw that education was connected
to research and the pursuit of knowledge and not achieved by a mere
cramming down of substantive learning. He put part of this thinking
in the following eloquent form:
When things are investigated, knowledge is extended.
When knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere.
When the will is sincere, the heart is set right.
When the heart is right, the personal life is cultivated.
When personal lives are cultivated, families become harmonious.
When families are harmonious, government becomes orderly.
And when government is orderly, there will be peace in the
And he had good advice even for today's students: "Studying
without thinking," he said, "leads to confusion; thinking without
studying leads to laziness."
Education for All and Higher Education
It seems that the phrase "education for all" traces its more
recent origin to the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All.
This declaration, building upon the "right to education" recognized
in the postwar Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enshrined
in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural
Rights, sought to improve on a global scale access to basic
education, not only for children, but also for adults. Although the
goals of the declaration were lofty, it cannot be said that much
progress has been made in the ensuing 15 years. Roughly a billion
people remain illiterate, and two-thirds of those are women. Our
commitment to education for all, while most pronounced here at home
in our own city, must also extend around the globe. An uneducated
world is not a productive world, and an unproductive world is
increasingly a dangerous world.
In higher education, it may seem we are a bit removed from these
problems, and that may appear especially so in an elite and highly
selective school like Rice. In fact, we at Rice are making, and
committed to continue making, great contributions toward assuring
we achieve the goal of education for all in Houston. Most
importantly, the education of our children begins with the
education of their teachers, and Rice has extraordinary programs,
especially in science and technology, for the training of teachers.
We provide opportunities on campus for K-12 students, especially
students from underrepresented groups. And Rice students engage in
the tutoring of students. We seek through these efforts not merely
to provide basic education, but also to truly raise the level of
aspiration and achievement. And of course, we seek a diverse
student body, opening extraordinary opportunity to young women and
men from all segments of society.
Education for All and Global Education
But let me turn to another possible reading of the theme
education for all, and that is the most encompassing
sense-geographically speaking-of what the word "all" means: the
global aspect of education. There indeed is a world market in
education emerging, and it is global on both the demand and supply
side. Our students expect an international dimension to their
education. That is accomplished both through the
internationalization of our student bodies here in the United
States and the opportunities we offer for study or other experience
abroad. At Rice, for example, already more than 40 percent of our
students have some international component to their education, and
we expect that number to grow in the coming years.
But education also is internationalizing from the supply side,
in that universities are competing more than ever across continents
both for faculty and students. The United States traditionally has
been the overwhelmingly dominant player in this regard. By that I
mean that foreign students typically desire to come to the United
States for their education. But this reality is changing rapidly as
a result of several factors.
First, and perhaps most important, are the barriers we place in
front of foreign students and scholars and the general message of
arrogance and isolation being broadly communicated about the United
States today. United States consular officials across the globe are
eyeing potential foreign students with suspicion, making it a risky
proposition whether or not a student will obtain a visa. Arbitrary
treatment upon coming to the United States often can follow even
once a visa is obtained. And the difficulty of traveling back and
forth once people are in the country is another daunting
As a result, applications from foreign students to American
universities have declined precipitously over the last four years.
Those students now are seeking other places to gain their
education. For the most part, though not exclusively, such students
choose other English speaking countries. Great Britain, Canada,
Ireland, and Australia are among the great beneficiaries of our
discouraging policies. The most dramatic drops are seen in students
from Asia, who still account for more than one-half of the foreign
students in the United States.
In the meantime, other nations are gearing up their education to
compete with ours, most notably India and China, the two largest
sources of our foreign students. In science and engineering, the
threat to United States pre-eminence is particularly pronounced in
light of the declining number of Americans choosing those areas for
graduate study. In the last 30 years, the share of university
students in the world enrolled in the United States has dropped by
more than one-half. By contrast, 30 years ago, China had almost no
science and engineering doctoral students. In 2003, it graduated
13,000 PhDs, 70 percent of which were in science and engineering.
And from 1995 to 2003, the number of students entering PhD programs
in China increased from about 8,000 to nearly 50,000. Students in
the United States are making different choices than the rest of the
world. In the United States, only 17 percent of undergraduate
degrees are in science and engineering. The world average is 27
percent, and in China it is a whopping 52 percent.
Even within the United States, foreign students now make up
nearly 60 percent of doctoral recipients in engineering, and more
than one-third of such students are studying in the physical
sciences. At the undergraduate level, on a global scale, the United
States' share of engineering students dropped by half, from 12
percent to 6 percent.
In many ways, we ought to rejoice at such news, for it
represents a measure of success at the global level of education
for all-not merely the goal of basic education for all children,
but also the goal of advanced education for all countries. The role
of the United States in providing global educational services is
important to the aspiration of both our own country and countries
around the world.
We at Rice University are very happy to participate in that
endeavor. With our international role, we win three times: we
benefit from having outstanding students and researchers on our
campus, who contribute to our research mission while they are here.
We benefit from the students who graduate and stay in our country,
for they contribute immensely to the vitality of our
knowledge-based industries. And we benefit when they return to
their countries of origin, for the vast majority take with them an
appreciation of the American way of life and American values such
We live in a shrinking world in which our natural resources are
decreasing at the same time as our global interactions are
increasing. From oil to arable land, it looks like we are facing
great challenges in meeting our future needs. The only resource
that is not shrinking is the human population, and its capacity for
learning and ingenuity. If we, along with other countries around
the world, commit ourselves to education for all, to making
possible the full potential of every human being, then-but only
then-can we go forward with the optimism that our shrinking planet
will be an ever increasing source of opportunity and satisfaction
for its inhabitants.