In 1998, MIT and Singapore launched the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA), where the University of Singapore provided MIT professors with significant amounts of money, no strings attached, in exchange for the training of some of its students through specially designed programs - I remember being a Teaching Assistant for one of those courses, which was held at 8am in a technology classroom so that it was 8pm in Singapore - as opposed to the middle of the night - and students over there would follow the lectures on a screen. Back then this was the cutting edge of global education, and it might still be. (Disclosure: my PhD advisor at MIT received funding from Singapore, which I believe he used to, among other things, fund my own research.)
These days we hear again a lot about the globalization of education through the creation of partnerships between American and foreign universities to educate foreign students (see for instance this New York Times article dated March 26, 2007 about Carnegie Mellon University in India). At a time where the US high school student population is booming and the competition to get into the top colleges is about to become fiercer than ever (an old post of mine discusses this trend), I'd be curious to see how long it takes to the parents of rejected US applicants to sue universities for diverting resources to educating foreign students rather than their own offspring. I am not saying their claim would be valid - after all, Singapore gave MIT a lot of money during the first five years of the Singapore-MIT alliance, which was used to fund MIT students like me and for which I am grateful (all good things have an end: when the alliance was renewed in 2004 Singapore required more bang for its buck, ending the practice of awarding a degree from the institution in Singapore with a certificate attesting participation in SMA and preferring instead for the students in Singapore to receive a dual degree from MIT and from either NTU (Nanyang Technological University) or NUS (National University of Singapore) - a shrewd move from Singapore). But when does the desire of a university to maintain its global standing, with the commitment to cutting-edge research and to the corresponding funds it requires, get in the way of educating students in its home country? Should a global university feel indebted to such undergraduate students or is the concept of home country becoming obsolete? What will a judge say to rejected MIT hopefuls who announce: "I love global education; I am very willing to move to a foreign country to receive a degree with MIT's name on it and I am better than the students MIT has accepted in that program"? Maybe the era of global education will bring with it the reign of the global lawyer prosecuting global discrimination cases...
On a side note about admissions-related litigation, I sometimes wonder why, with all the talk about underrepresented minorities that have come to mean anyone except white males (which makes me a member of a minority) and the need to have more diversified student bodies, the US states do not throw more of a fuss to see themselves represented at top universities in a ratio similar to their weight in the US census. After all, I hear almost constantly about comparisons between the percentage of women in engineering and in the general population almost constantly. For instance, students from Alabama make 0.68% of the MIT undergraduate student body (I have removed the US students with a foreign address from the totals; with those the percentage would become 0.66%) but 1.54% of the population; why don't white boys from Alabama complain about being underrepresented compared to white boys from Massachusetts (2.15% of the population and 9.49% of MIT's "US with address in the US" undergraduate student body); shouldn't diversity in Massachusetts be interpreted as admitting more white boys from Alabama? That debate would be interesting to watch.
My wider point here is that the globalization of education raises important issues on what should be the norm in terms of student body, whether there should be a norm and whether enforcing that norm should be part of the university's mission. And I do mean this as an open-ended question; my parents would not have had the education they had in France if they had not taken advantage of what was called "parallel ways" to promote diversity in higher education and I welcome ways to give disadvantaged people a chance when they have shown their determination to beat the odds. It does seem to me, though, that US universities are failing at preparing the American public for this change in their mission, and by creating alliances abroad without attempting to explain them at home (especially to the parents of high school seniors) risk building significant resentment in their home country.