In the United States, he said, the broader education system offers many possibilities even to vocational trainees, but it creates a level of confusion for employers, who often cannot identify a student’s primary vocational skill.

He also commented about excellent university initiatives in Germany, which large employers are eager to work with. But he warned of the danger of brain drain. He cited the example of India, where many of the top students from the IITs go to work elsewhere for global companies. “I think you need to be careful about equating excellence, elite, and innovation, as we seem to be doing in this room.”


Mr. Beyer affirmed that apprenticeships and technical training “is obviously one of the underpinnings of the German economy.” Germany is specialized in engineering and technology, which would not be possible without such training. “That explains a lot of our success in exporting and increasing value added.” Also, he said, part of the success of the Excellence Initiative is its overwhelming support by the majority of observers and people involved, despite its different approach. A point not yet discussed, he said, is the current huge inflow of young people into German universities. “Politicians are trying to cope with this, but it will stop at the end of this decade, when numbers will decrease rapidly. You have to look ahead in questions like this and prepare policy.” This change, he said, would affect major features of education, including immigration, brain drain, and the inflow of bright students.

Charles Ebinger of the Brookings Institution said he was struck by Prof. Mayer’s emphasis on quantitative measurements of success. In the states, he said, many evaluations are written that probably didn’t need to be, which he attributed to the “publish or perish mentality. We’re writing more and more about less relevant issues. Why do we not hear more about evaluating the quality of teaching and the time professors actually spend with students?”

Mr. Wolff added that in the case of China, the abundance of patents was not surprising, given the centralized political system. “When you have a command economy,” he said, that promotes patenting and publishing, “you’re going to get a lot of utility model patents that haven’t had much review. And you’ll have a lot of papers written that don’t measure up.” He said that such figures are not helpful as metrics, but alternative metrics are not available.

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