“Crisis” in higher education (and academia)

Here’s something to think about:

America’s world-beating universities still face significant challenges | Financial Times

The modern US research university model that emerged in the second half of the last century is based on competition for faculty, students and funding sources. The government is an important supporter, but, unlike in many other countries, public funds for research are allocated on a competitive basis and not tied to excessive red tape.

Campuses around the world are grappling with increasingly prominent cultural divides, but this is true to a greater extent in the US, in some cases threatening the quality of research and teaching. Faculty complain about attacks on academic liberty from the left and the right. How many resort to quiet self-censorship is anybody’s guess; but a 2021 survey showed that a majority of students agree that “the climate on their campus prevents students from saying things that they believe”. A university should be a place for generating new, and sometimes controversial, ideas and for exposing citizens in their formative years to different viewpoints.

I necessarily don’t agree with the author’s assertion on “impact rankings”. First, the idea of scientific “citations” is flawed, for wanting a better alternative. Second, rankings (as published for universities) are only worth the paper they are published on and are required for allocating marketing spends (and not necessarily informed decisions). The “winners” attract the most “international students” and not necessarily the “best of the academic brains”. There is an opportunity cost for people with ideas, while those with financial means can circumvent those issues in favour of creating “networks”. Research is a much abused moniker.

Political debates focus on convictions and beliefs. Everyone’s got them. Since they don’t require the “pretence” of being an “expert”, it has a low bar to engage with the “political conversations”, making it easy (and often heated) because of a range of political spectra. It is the reason I don’t speak about politicisation of academia, but it is easy to dismiss the claims of “teaching shops.” If manicured lawns and campuses are required to “attract”, a limited pool of potential applicants, and NOT the strength of “ideas”, it only points towards the intellectual bankruptcy of academia.

“Global Impact Programs” hire ONLY local candidates, and those with money can hitch hike themselves to “global south” or “conflict torn nations” to create “sustainable climate neutral health programs”. If this sounds ludicrous, it is because it is! These are only meant for virtue signalling, and I regret those “directors” have an extremely limited field of vision to broaden the research scope. In lieu, they are then only heading a specific agenda driven “research”.

Let’s see if there’s any churn in ideas to bring forth a better alternative than what’s on offer.

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