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 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.


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