Univer­sity chal­lenges

THE (Times Higher Education) - - OPINION -

When asked about the big­gest chal­lenges fac­ing uni­ver­si­ties, our No­bel lau­re­ates re­peat­edly come back with one is­sue: money.

Two in five men­tion ei­ther the af­ford­abil­ity of tu­ition fees or the un­der­fund­ing of uni­ver­si­ties.

“Tu­ition [fees at] pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties in the US are still sky­rock­et­ing, and sup­port for pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties in many states is de­clin­ing,” ex­plains one re­spon­dent, while another cites the “grow­ing in­equal­ity be­tween pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties and wealthy, tax-ex­empt pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions”.

Another US-based lau­re­ate ex­plains that “stu­dents [in­creas­ingly] have to have very rich par­ents…At the top pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties, the num­ber of stu­dents with par­ents in the top 1 per cent [of the in­come scale] is equal to the num­ber of stu­dents with par­ents in the bot­tom 50 per cent of in­come.”

For Roberts, “the big­gest threat to uni­ver­si­ties is, sadly, politi­cians who do not lis­ten to science or ed­u­ca­tion”. He cites the in­tro­duc­tion of “ex­ces­sive bu­reau­cracy try­ing to mea­sure [sci­en­tific] out­puts”, as he dis­misses the so-called im­pact agenda as “trash” and “ap­palling”.

“Why do bu­reau­crats think this is a good thing to do, and why have we let them get away with it?” he asks.

Other re­spon­dents be­moan ad­min­is­tra­tors’ grow­ing power, while one lau­re­ate based in South­east Asia com­plains that “gov­ern­ments [are] seek­ing more con­trol over the be­hav­iour of aca­demics, thus mak­ing aca­demic life less at­trac­tive and dis­cour­ag­ing long-term projects”.

Uni­ver­si­ties should be “more open to heretics such as my­self – and then science will progress faster”, says Brian Joseph­son, who won the No­bel Prize in Physics in 1973 at the age of 33 but whose later re­search at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge on para­psy­chol­ogy has at­tracted crit­i­cism.

A hand­ful of re­spon­dents also hit out at what they see as the ero­sion of free speech on cam­pus. One Cal­i­for­nia-based lau­re­ate con­demns “the sup­pres­sion of free exchange [of views] by those [who] riot in re­sponse to al­ter­na­tive views”.

‘Uni­ver­si­ties should be more open to heretics such as my­self – and then science will progress faster’

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