Saturday, 31 July 2010

Very interesting discussion about academia

... over at The Atlantic.

My tuppenorth:

  • at least half the added value of university for undergraduates is the other undergraduates. If you hang around with clever, interesting people, that expands your brain - and most 18 year olds pay more attention to other 18 year olds than their professors, for some reason - plus, if your friends go on to be important and influential, then you have a network.
  • this means that for universities, nothing succeeds like success. (Economic term: multiple equilibria.) No matter how good a community college's teaching, it will be less attractive than Harvard because Harvard has Harvard students.
  • This gives famous universities the chance to extract rents: they can charge a lot more than they actually provide by way of teaching etc. You are paying for the name and the networking.
  • These rents go into research. 
  • The authors are damn right that a lot of research is useless. The problem is, research is like advertising: half of the money spent on it is wasted, but nobody knows which half.