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Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar was about to become Prime Minister in 1990, but the election was annulled and she has been under various forms of detention for most of the last 20 years. She earned a B.A from Oxford’s St. Hughes College.
Almost 40 percent of the Harvard-educated executives in this survey completed a master’s degree at the Kennedy School of Government. The center has more than 400 international students from 86 countries in degree programs this academic year and claims alumni in at least 170 countries. Several of those graduates are already making their mark in nation politics.
Four have held cabinet positions in Serbia, New Zealand, Iraq, and Vietnam within the last five years. Two are currently in office. Vuk Jeremic is Serbia’s Foreign Minister and Cao Duc Phat is the Minister of Agriculture in Vietnam. Incumbent Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan held the position of Senate majority leader from 2004-2008. In South Africa, Frank Chikane recently served as Director General of the Presidency.
Venezuelan Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor, is the most likely future presidential candidate with a Harvard M.P.P. Banned by the Chavez administration from running in the 2008 elections, Lopez is a prominent leader of the opposition to President Chavez, a role which may lead to a run for the presidency in 2012.
Why do these two universities have such a disproportionate international impact? Part of the answer lies in Harvard and Oxford’s known contribution to the education of political leaders in their own countries. Each surpasses its nearest domestic rival in educating its nation’s political elite
Harvard leads Yale in educating American Presidents by a margin of eight to five, but Yale is narrowing the gap. Four of its five have served in the last 35 years (Ford, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush). By contrast, Harvard has had but two in that period: Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who graduated from both.
However, other evidence indicates Harvard’s predominant role in the education of American political leaders. In the second half of the 20th century, Harvard educated more than 11 percent of the top national American political elite, compared to Yale’s less than seven percent. One Harvard program alone, the Law School, produced 37 national leaders, in contrast with the 38 who graduated from all of Yale’s colleges combined (author and M. A. Simon The Social Science Journal, 2007).
In the United Kingdom, Cambridge can claim but 15 Prime Ministers in contrast to Oxford’s 25. The most recent Cambridge alumnus to be Prime Minister was Stanley Baldwin, who left office in 1937. Since then, eight former Oxford students have held that office. International students and scholars will be attracted to these two institutions because of this record of educating British and American political leaders.
Three other factors – age, prestige, and recruiting efforts – set these two universities apart. Each is the oldest institution of higher education in its country. Age alone confers prestige. More objectively, both are regularly at or near the top of national and international rankings of universities. Both have made conscious efforts to attract foreign undergraduates, graduate students, and mid-career professionals who are likely to have a future policy impact in their countries.
Once the alumni of a school develop a reputation for success in a certain area others with career plans in that direction tend to gravitate to those universities. Ambitious foreign politicians see an association with elite British or American university as a significant addition to their resumes. Harvard and Oxford will likely remain the world’s major political universities for some time to come.