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University Reform April 13, 2010

Posted by Andre Vellino in Universities.

I can’t agree with the conclusions Margaret Wente’s draws in her Globe and Mail column “Universities are sitting ducks for reform” but her views, which largely echo those of Ian Clark’s “Academic Transformation: The Forces Reshaping Higher Education in Ontario“, are no doubt going to be heeded by politicians looking to “trim the fat” from their ballooning budgets.

Yet Ms. Wente is right to claim that the days when academic excellence and the advancement of knowledge are central to the university enterprise are numbered.  Sadly, universities are businesses – at the undergraduate level anyway – and

what the market really needs is … better ways to deliver utility courses such as Introduction to Thermodynamics.

The problem is that “the market” shouldn’t be dicatating the direction of research. Ms. Wente’s jab at “marginal research” – for instance in “critical literary theory”- just doesn’t hold water.  “Taxpayers”, she says “are not going to subsidize” this research.

But since when are Joe and Jane taxpayer qualified to determine what research is and is not to be performed? Should we also ask the people to vote on whether this or that musical or literary composition should be supported by a grant?  Is Thermodynamics 101 more important than Einstein’s Dreams?  Ms. Wente, please explain how you know and why?


1. Neel - May 4, 2010

I feel the reason why there is so much innovation happening in western universities is thanks to the research model. There is a lot to be lost if you give up on the research model and move towards a more “industry” model where research is separated from teaching.

I did my Undergrad in India and I have seen first hand how this model can be detrimental to growth at least in the Sciences. I am not in a position to comment on the Arts, because I have never had a chance to see what happens there in the form of research. India produces under a 100 genuinely new PhD theses a year in the Sciences – and the primary reason is that institutions are setup to churn out undergrads without focusing on Research. We got to this situation because we didn’t have a choice – the pockets have holes in them and money is scarce.

The US produces around 10 times the number of PhD’s a year and even if you take only a fraction of that to be ground-breaking work – its worth it.

From a more philosophical viewpoint, students will lose the urge to pursue research since the people they interact with will not be researchers. They’ll be people whose job it is to churn out “engineers”. And in the long term – the country will suffer.

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