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Profound changes are taking place in global higher education. Leading universities in the developed world are being buffeted by tightening constraints on public funding and a slump in endowment income. In the developing world ─ for many years the source of mobile international students seeking university places in the advanced English-speaking countries ─ a major expansion in domestic higher education is underway. Everywhere, many governments have aggressive plans to expand higher education and attract foreign students. International league tables and the relentless spread of English as a medium of instruction are making the sector ever more competitive. Private sector universities are spreading across the world, as governments and students seek cheaper or more innovative alternatives to traditional public universities. This lecture explores the changing landscape of international higher education and asks: why should we care about the ‘great brain race’?