The Economist has a series of articles comparing the US vs. European higher education systems. And, well, why the US boasts 17 out 20 top ranking universities in the world. It’s a good read with praise and criticism of bother styles. The articles are here, here and here; see also Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s top 500 university list.
The US does one thing that is not listed in these articles which contributes the most to their success: encouraging and welcoming the youngest and brightest from around the world to be educated and stay there. Let’s start from the beginning. Each country bears the cost for raising a child from birth to maturity (aside from money spent by the parents.) Some countries invest more, some less, but there is always a cost, and it is not a trivial one (if you find a link listing numbers, please forward it to me.) What the US gets is the cream of the crop of every country without spending a dime on their upbringing. That’s genius. Check out research groups at any US university, the majority of researchers are foreign, not American, and most of them stay there for good.
In addition to that, the immigration laws are more favorable towards people with higher degrees. You can knock down 2 years of processing time from your green card application if you have a PhD, for example.
Meanwhile, I got an excellent resource from Cambridge entitled “Guide for PhD Candidates at Cambridge Computer Lab.” I’m not sure if any of you be interested in reading this, but if you are familiar with the research studies system in the US, you might want to compare it to this; it’s significantly different.