Dec 14, 2011

Challenges for Universities in the US and effects on Developing Countries

 From The Economists article "University challenge:"
American professors of literature crank out 70,000 scholarly publications a year, compared with 13,757 in 1959. Most of these simply moulder: Mark Bauerlein of Emory University points out that, of the 16 research papers produced in 2004 by the University of Vermont’s literature department, a fairly representative institution, 11 have since received between zero and two citations. The time wasted writing articles that will never be read cannot be spent teaching. In “Academically Adrift” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa argue that over a third of America’s students show no improvement in critical thinking or analytical reasoning after four years in college.
Online education:
Popular anger about universities’ costs is rising just as technology is shaking colleges to their foundations. The internet is changing the rules. Star academics can lecture to millions online rather than the chosen few in person. Testing and marking can be automated. And for-profit companies such as the University of Phoenix are stripping out costs by concentrating on a handful of popular courses as well as making full use of the internet. The Sloan Foundation reports that online enrolments grew by 10% in 2010, against 2% for the sector as a whole. 
The storm is not going to pass:
Many universities’ first instinct will be to batten down the hatches and wait for this storm to pass. But the storm is not going to pass. The higher-education industry faces a stark choice: either adapt to a rapidly changing world or face a future of cheeseparing. It is surely better to rethink the career structure of your employees than to see it wither (the proportion of professors at four-year universities who are on track to win tenure fell from 50% in 1997 to 39% ten years later).
Some responses:
Western Governors University (WGU) in Salt Lake City was founded in 1996 by 19 state governors who saw the crisis coming. To squeeze costs, it does all of its teaching online.
BYU-Idaho has decided that focusing on teaching undergraduates is the way forward. It has got rid of expensive encrustations such as the athletics and PhD programmes and introduced year-round courses. Cornell teaches 10,000 students online every year, most of them working adults. Southern New Hampshire University has five satellite colleges that make it easier for students to live at home while studying. The University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education has formed a partnership with a private company, 2tor, to design courses for students in 45 states and over 25 countries. 
And some words of wisdom:
Nearly 100 years ago American universities faced similar worries about rising costs and detachment from the rest of society. Lawrence Lowell, the president of Harvard, argued that “institutions are rarely murdered; they meet their end by suicide…They die because they have outlived their usefulness, or fail to do the work that the world wants done.” America’s universities quickly began “the work that the world wants done” and started a century of American dominance of higher education. They need to repeat the trick if that century is not to end in failure.
Implications for developing countries:

The developing world has been a free rider of the research that has taken place in the US for the most part. Think about transportation, medicine, electronics, internet technologies, economics, human rights, etc. If the economic situation does not get better US universities and private companies will be forced to cut off research budgets - this is already happening. 

Latin American and African countries are getting richer, this means that probably more funds will be available for universities located in these regions. China is already moving fast towards research and it is promoting the American way of higher education. If production and consumption is going global, academic research will go global as well. 

Universities and government in Latin America and African countries need to start thinking seriously about their research policies. This include subsidies and also setting up the standards to evaluate and promote faculty. In fact, universities in these countries should get closer to the US system, but probably not too close. They have to strike a balance between research and teaching to promote faculty. 

More academic research in Latin America and Africa will come naturally as well, so to speak, as industries developed. Brazil is taking the lead. Collaborative research between manufacturing companies and universities is increasing. 

It is very likely that research in emerging economies will jump directly to research on business, economics, technology development, entrepreneurship, the environment, and similar areas. They will probably skip research on the humanities, art, history, etc. I am not saying that research in later areas will not happen, but they will receive less attention. 

Universities in emerging economies might be affected in a different way. As US universities move more aggressively towards on-line teaching, more students living in developing countries will enroll in those degrees, presumably cheaper degrees, which would lower the demand for universities in emerging countries. One will expect that universities in emerging countries will respond by using technology more intensely, by hiring professionals and PhDs from prestigious schools in the US, and by finding niche markets. 

It is probably time for emerging countries to take some responsibility for the innovation and discovery that will move the world forward in the years to come. 

HT for "The Economist" article: Surse Pierpoint.

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