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  1. Brian Mulligan
    July 29, 2012 - 3:06 am

    Someone (remind me who) said that we tend to overestimate the rate of change due to technology but underestimate the extent of that change. Based on that, I agree that 2020 will be too soon to see significant change. However, also based on that, I would suggest that your third scenario is the most likely outcome in the longer term. Government will fund knowledge creation (research) and dissemination (open publications and open courses) and leave the tedious work of accreditation to others, probably highly regulated private providers.

    However, I’m a little mystified by the last statement about decline in the US. That may well happen for lots of reasons but I don’t see how it is connected to your scenario which describes a more cost-effective method of creating and spreading knowledge, which could lead to a higher general level of education in the workforce, using less public money and incurring less private debt. So what if mediocre public higher education disappears, if it is replaced by something better. (I’m not just saying this because I’ll be retired by then, but it does make it easier to accept)

    • Tony Bates
      July 29, 2012 - 11:33 am

      Hi, Brian

      Thanks for your comment. My concern with the third scenario I proposed is that it would concentrate research within a relatively small number of elite institutions. This would lead to a lack of diversity in research and innovation, and would also concentrate economic development around these research centres, which are located mainly on the east and west coasts, thus further gutting the ‘heartland’ of the USA. This would further increase the gap between the very rich and the rest in the USA. Furthermore, the for-profits would focus on what they do best – turning out very competent middle managers and service workers. Thus there would be an overall shortage in the long run of people with critical thinking skills, evidence-based approaches to problem solving, and creative thinking, necessary for building a widespread and in-depth knowledge economy.

      I realise this is mere speculation, and on my part, ideologically driven. I believe that we need a strong public sector higher education system for reasons of social equality. However, I fear the public higher education sector across the Western world is beginning to rot from the inside. The organizational culture of universities is so strong and designed to prevent change. It will need extraordinary leadership at both a political and at institutional levels to bring about the necessary changes, without destroying the many virtues of public higher education..

      These are very high stakes, and it is important to get it ‘right’. However, there are many views on what ‘right’ is.

      • Brian Mulligan
        July 30, 2012 - 7:17 am

        Just a few comments, Tony.

        I don’t think it would be a good policy to support an inefficient function(general courses in higher education) in order to indirectly support another function (research). Design the most efficient system for each separately. If there happen to be synergies, well and good. However, the Economist magazine sometime during the nineties did a series of articles on this and suggested that there were very few synergies between education and research. Despite many claims to the contrary, I’ve seen no research that confirms such synergies.

        It would be nice to think that public education is good at developing critical thinking skills but recent claims (Arun?) seem to suggest otherwise. Either way, if the government believes that such skills are important, they should direct funds to those institutions, public or private, that actually achieve those outcomes. I could add, “if we can measure them” but your comments on private institutions achieving less in this regard would have to be based on the idea that we can.

        I am somewhat ideologically motivated as well, but as an engineer I tend to prefer whatever works. The idea that nobody in the state should be hungry would not lead us to think that all food shops should be run by the government. I would agree that if the leaders of public institutions can do what is required to increase access (and the biggest inhibitor is cost), and maintain if not increase quality, then they will have proved their worth. If they can’t, it is best that they get out of the way.

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