A Question For Katty Kay

What is the global perspective on U.S. higher education?

By AGB    //    Volume 23,  Number 2   //    March/April 2015

Katty Kay is the lead anchor for BBC World News America, covering American and global affairs. Her work has taken her from Japan to England to the United States, where she has covered the White House, Congress and Wall Street. She is the co-author of two books, Womenomics and The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self- Assurance. She will be speaking at AGB’s National Conference on Trusteeship in April. We asked her for the global perspective on American higher education.

What role should U.S. colleges and universities be playing in the economic recovery, both at home and abroad?

American higher education is still the envy of the world and attracts many of the brightest students in the world. That gives U.S. colleges a big role in economic recovery globally. This is still the country where so many ideas are generated, and it often starts in colleges.

As the global economy shifts from brawn to brain, the most important driver of economic competitiveness is talent and the ability to analyze and think creatively. That’s not going to change anytime soon. We’ve all seen the stats on the education boom in Asia, and Americans need to be aware of the growing competition from the East. But the most impressive new ideas still seem to come from the U.S. (think Apple, Facebook, Google), and that is a reflection of the system of education here.

What can American college and university governing boards learn from their international peers?

The quality of American colleges and universities is unquestioned, and often higher than in other countries. But so are the fees! You can go to the University of Edinburgh for $18,000 or the Sorbonne in Paris for $1,000. Compare that to the $60,000 charged by many private institutions in the U.S. I think governing boards should be aware of these differences and ask what they can do to make college fees less onerous to middle-class and low-income students.

In the U.S., more women than men earn college degrees, but women are still underrepresented on college governing boards. What does this mean for higher ed leadership?

Women are outperforming men in education on almost every level but are underrepresented at the top almost everywhere. It’s a big problem for any industry. Organizations, whether educational, military, corporate, or political, do better with a mix of men and women at the top. A 2012 study by business professors from the University of Maryland and Columbia University found that firms with women in top management positions increased their value by $42 million, and firms that emphasized “innovation intensity” had more financial gains with women in top management. A 2012 Credit Suisse Research International study showed similar results, with organizations that had one or more women on their boards realizing higher average returns on equity and higher average growth rates.

McKinsey & Company’s 2013 report, “Women Matter,” showed that certain leadership behaviors exhibited more often by women than men improve organizational performance by specifically strengthening accountability, the leadership team, and work environment and values, all of which lead to better corporate performance. More women at the top in education would mean better decisions for everybody, men and women!

In all of your travels, what is the most innovative educational model that you’ve seen and why?

I’ve studied all over the world, including England, Europe, and the Middle East, in several different languages, and found that different systems offer different qualities. I suspect the innovation of the future will actually come online, allowing disadvantaged students access to quality teachers and new methods of educating. That can help colleges and universities, too, by bringing in extra talent and driving innovation. For families that can’t afford the high college fees, online study could give them access to a really strong education without the high costs.

That said, I feel that there are also advantages to studying on a campus. My two oldest kids are both students in American institutions, and they love the social and academic opportunities that come with campus life.

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