Tag Archives: Universities

Universities: a System Falling Apart

The global university system, threatened by funding problems and its own dysfunctions, cannot continue in its current form, argues Jim McNiven, author of F&O’s Thoughtlines column. He suggests that one solution — so drastic as to be almost unthinkable — is to jettison the research subsidies of universities, and divorce research from teaching.

McNiven argued in Part One of his three-part series, The Future of the Global University System, that the  “romantic” university model — Socrates imparting wisdom to a half-dozen students while sitting under a tree — is fading, a ‘handicraft’ cultural dream. In Part Two, he considers prospects for the future. An excerpt:

Commencement

Commencement at Harvard

A long time ago, when I was in grad school, I was invited to go to a faculty seminar and hear Herbert Stein, who was then one of the leading economists of his day. He was asked about the growing American commitment to the Vietnam War and how far it could grow. His reply then was similar to this, his later famous quote: “If something cannot go on forever, then it will stop.” 

The global university system is beset with the problem that it cannot go on forever in the form it has taken. The education leaders, the American universities, as noted in a recent Boston Consulting Group report, have been transforming themselves slowly (‘eating themselves alive” is maybe a better term) by shrinking the number of full-time faculty in favor of a small group of relatively highly paid research professors alongside a large group of ‘adjunct professors’ who teach on a piecework basis per single contracted course. This isn’t much different from a lot of other industries in our society, but it has not done a lot for cost control nor for supposed educational quality …. read Things Fall Apart — and then Reassemble. (Public access)

Click here for Jim McNiven’s column page, including the series, The Future of the Global University System.

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

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The future of education: universities, hogs and logs

Jim McNiven, author of F&O’s Thoughtlines column, tackles the factored global university system — not to condemn it, he writes in today’s column, but to try and explain the harsh reality: “A system whose structures and incentives were created around 1900 has evolved in ways never dreamed of then and is today under threat from funding pressures and its own dysfunctions.” An excerpt:

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Oxford’s “dreaming spires” © Deborah Jones

You have to look at universities without their trappings of tradition, semi-mystical feeling and notions of honours and awards. See them instead as not-for-profit education institutions in an age where information is rapidly becoming democratized and commoditized (like hogs and logs), or as a single global information business subject to the same forces affecting all global information businesses today, from banks to Twitter.

The university model romanticized by many academics — Socrates imparting wisdom to a half-dozen students while sitting under a tree — is a ‘handicraft’ cultural dream. If it ever existed, it did so in the British model where students ‘read’ on their own, occasionally consulting professors about issues they had. This British model buckled under German course structures and then largely disappeared after the Harvard Business School adopted Taylorite1 practices in 1907, setting out, among other things, class sizes of 75 students. Harvard and other universities gradually adopted regularized classes of an hour each, offered at a specific time each day or week; they set up unit-based course credit systems and began to tie the hoary notion of tenure to research ‘productivity.’

Gradually, the American system spread across the world … read more (free access*):

The Future of the Global University System, a three-part series

Click here for Jim McNiven’s columnist page

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

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