When it comes to the future of American education, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the real danger is here at home, not abroad. In his keynote speech at the TIME Summit on Higher Education on Friday, the outgoing mayor of New York City claimed concerns about educational competitiveness are overblown.
“If higher education in America is in such dire straits, then why is everyone trying to imitate it?” he said. He noted that 40 of the top 100 universities in the world are American, and that the next highest ranked country, the UK, follows with only nine.
Bloomberg added that the anxiety about being outstripped by India and China in the sciences may not be warranted. “I’m not so sure what the knowledge wars are, but I do think that the pursuit of knowledge is not a zero sum competition,” he said. “So mazel tov to them.”
But, he added, “I’m not worried about what’s going on overseas, I’m worried about what we’re inflicting on ourselves”
“The threat of political interference and deliberately underfunding scientific research is still going on,” the always outspoken philanthropist said. “In some places, you can’t teach evolution, you can’t do stem cell research”
“I don’t know what a creationist does when they need a doctor,” he joked. “I don’t think there are any witch doctors around”
Bloomberg also criticized the short-sightedness of an immigration policy that deports American-educated scholars and scientists.
“[It’s] the dumbest immigration policy you could conceive of,” he said. “We educate people and we don’t let them stay here, we need them to create jobs and we don’t let them stay here, and we need entrepreneurs but we don’t let them come.”
Although Bloomberg seemed reluctant to wholeheartedly embrace some of the newest learning technology, he acknowledged that higher education has to keep changing and adapting with the times.
“I’ve never been a big fan of MOOCs, but I think they have their place,” he said.
“The future of higher education is going to be different, we just have to make sure that it’s better.”