Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, a bill purportedly meant to revive U.S. dominance in research and development. “We used to rank number one in the world in research and development; now we rank number nine,” Biden said at the signing ceremony. “China was number eight decades ago; now they are number two.” And a recent study from Japan’s science ministry reported that China now leads the world not just in quantity of scientific research, but in quality too.
The success of the US—and perhaps China, into the future—is due to the “research university”, an academic institution that offers professors the freedom to study and research, and students the freedom to learn, leading to high-quality academic output. Those universities are the subject of Professor William Kirby’s Empires of Ideas: Creating the Modern University from Germany to America to China.
In this interview, Professor Kirby and I talk about the research university: Humboldt, Harvard, Berkeley, Tsinghua, Nanjing, and the University of Hong Kong. We also discuss what it means for China, and Chinese institutions, to play a bigger role in world academia. How might that change things?
William C. Kirby is Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration and T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard University, as well as Chair of the Harvard China Fund and Faculty Chair of the Harvard Center Shanghai. His many books include Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014).