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What on earth is wrong with some economists? « University Blog

What on earth is wrong with some economists? « University Blog.

Blog post reproduced in full.

What on earth is wrong with some economists?

Yesterday I was interviewed on Newstalk 106 – for overseas readers, an Irish talk radio station. My task was to give some advice to aspiring students making subject choices, but just before winding up the interview, the presenter asked me to comment on what had been said by a well-known economist (who works for another university) on the same radio station: that Irish universities waste resources, are over-funded, cannot manage student retention and unnecessarily promote subjects that don’t attract any real interest. Or something like that. I am not naming the economist in question, since I didn’t hear him myself and he may have been mis-quoted, or I may not have caught it correctly.

But let us say his words of wisdom were accurately relayed to me. It makes me want to pull my hair out. What possesses apparently intelligent academics who have made a good career out of being in the limelight on the back of their university positions to dump on their institutions in this way, particularly when they do so by talking such rubbish? The key ingredient in all this (and I have mentioned this type of thing before) seems to be the suggestion that higher education serves no functional purpose other than to engage the mind, and that therefore university programmes (either teaching or research) that relate to specific national needs are misplaced; other than the need, of course, to have more economists.

Of course the broadening of the mind is a key mission of universities, and all systems of higher education must have space for programmes of study that do not target specific careers, just as they must make room for pure research. But the overall structure of the university system that is needed for any successful country must go beyond providing for free markets in student choice.

Before I get hate mail, let me strike a balance and admit that I have many good friends who are economists, and I even agree with what some of them believe in. But there appears to be a strand of thinking within the profession that fails completely to understand the significance of universities in a modern society. Sigh.

How about the media seeking out only those economists who have actually produced peer-reviewed publications in the primary literature (or at least have conducted some actual research) on this topic as the ones to comment?

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