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More from The Economist: ‘Will America’s universities go the way of its car companies?’

More from The Economist on American Universities. Three points that particularly stand out:

  1. Mr Hacker and Ms Dreifus point out that senior professors in Ivy League universities now get sabbaticals every third year rather than every seventh. This year 20 of Harvard’s 48 history professors will be on leave.
  2. America’s commitment to research is one of the glories of its higher-education system. But for how long? The supply of papers that apply gender theory to literary criticism remains ample. But there is evidence of diminishing returns in an area perhaps more vital to the country’s economic dynamism: science and technology. The Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship, argues that the productivity of federal funding for R&D, in terms of patents and licences, has been falling for some years. Funding is spread too thinly. It would yield better results if concentrated on centres of excellence, but fashionable chatter about the “knowledge economy” stirs every congressional backwoodsman to stick his fingers into the university pie.
  3. The Goldwater Institute points to a third poison to add to rising prices and declining productivity: administrative bloat. Between 1993 and 2007 spending on university bureaucrats at America’s 198 leading universities rose much faster than spending on teaching faculty. Administration costs at elite private universities rose even faster than at public ones. For example, Harvard increased its administrative spending per student by 300%. In some universities, such as Arizona State University, almost half the full-time employees are administrators. Nearly all university presidents conduct themselves like corporate titans, with salaries, perks and entourages to match.

Point 1 is remarkable; few Irish academics it seems to me even manage a sabbatical once every decade or so.

Point 2 is worrying, but rectifiable. Europe could even get ahead of the USA if it ever got its act together on achieving the 3% of GNP invested in R&D target.

Point 3 seems not to be true of European Universities, but it would great to see all universities start produce these metrics in terms of spend per student, as then we could see easy and direct comparisons between our universities in terms of their financial management.

And of course the petrolheads will point out that Ford is back to health, as is GM!

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