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’