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Universities are broke – let’s cut the pointless admin and get back to teaching (theguardian.com)
427 points by ryan_j_naughton on Aug 23, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 288 comments



I work in the administration for a top public US research University. The increase in size of University administration and bureaucracy is due to a number of factors. One is certainly unnecessary employment and over-employment. Not only at high levels, with VP's, Assistant VP's, Assistant Vice VP's, Chancellors, Vice Chancellor's, Executive VP's, Directors of XYZ, etc, but also at low levels where the work done by 3 could realistically be done by 1.

However it's also important to recognize that not all of the runaway growth of University bureaucracy is due to poor management or redundant workers; expansion of IT infrastructure and increased regulatory requirements - especially for public institutions - demand more labor. These are the obvious culprits, but beyond these, because the modern University has become far more than just a place of higher education and has come to resemble a miniature city, it is expected to serve the diverse non-academic needs of tens of thousands of students, in addition to more traditional academic needs. Counseling and advisory services, recreational activities, food service, engagement and diversity programs, ubiquitous computing, etc. all add to the University's bottom line. Universities fear that if they were to stamp their feet and refuse to supply these amenities in the name of keeping down tuition, matriculation rates would decline as students would seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Add to this the fact that Universities receive no penalty from the market for continually increasing their prices. Because student loans are available to service ever increasing tuition costs, and students pretty much need to go to college to succeed in the 21st century, demand for college education is highly inelastic. What economic entity wouldn't raise its prices if it knew demand for its product wouldn't suffer?

In a traditional market, as one supplier increases price, competitors enter the market offering lower prices. This doesn't happen in the market for higher education because the value of a University is largely tied to its prestige, and prestige cannot be easily generated by competitors. We bemoan the high cost of University education then mock the University of Phoenix and similar offerings. Market dynamics are the guilty party here.


Loved everything you said except the part about market dynamics being the culprit. I think you correctly identify the widespread availability of student loans as a key factor driving this bloat; but there's nothing "market-based" about them. In a market, interest rates would vary according to the risk of the loan. Bad schools which don't teach and don't actually improve student outcomes and simply spend on other things would suffer. Students who now go to schools who do nothing for them and have no chance of paying their loans -- or spend most of their adult life trying to -- would be dissuaded from making that incorrect financial choice. And, most of all, federal loan availability is conditional on all sorts of regulatory requirements, which makes it especially difficult for new entrants to challenge the current monopolies big schools enjoy.

I think if we addressed some of these issues -- and therefore did bring the state of higher education closer to a market -- we'd see these dynamics change.


Those are good points. What I was trying to put across by invoking "market dynamics" was that the state of the current market as it exists is driving bloat rather than the capriciousness of individual administrators. You're right that the market is not in an unrestrained state.


Agree! I work in K-12 and we've seen the same exact thing over the past few years. The emphasis on top-down control and quality measures have done a ton of good for consultants, advisors, data analysts, and IT depts - and a ton of nothing for students.

My favorite part of this whole debacle is seeing districts and schools using administrative bloat to their advantage when creatively reporting "Student:Staff" ratios.


I can't believe folks would even accept a metric like "student:staff" rather than class-size. I would have no care about the ratio of myKid:janitor for example, no offense to janitors intended.


The one you are looking for is student/faculty ratio. They used to promote that until they realized they could puff up their ratio by including staff as well. Similar to the unemployment rate excluding people who can work but have stopped looking.

SO much BS in the US.


These are just metrics - often used for specialized or internal calculations. The unemployment rate (excl. discouraged workers) is primarily an Econ metric that the press has fixated on. There's plenty of other metrics out there, but mass media doesn't care enough to dig deep enough to find out.


Regarding academia, what countries do you suggest and why?


I don't have any experience with academia outside the US. For people wanting to go to college in the US, I would recommend Junior College for the first two years, then University for the second, and select in-state college that is close to where you already live.

I wish I had gone to JC my first two years. I was so thrilled with being out from under my parent's supervision that I goofed off too much in my first two years. JC is a little more forgiving, and in my experience, didn't have those huge lecture hall entry level course that spit out so many new students.

In state because it's much cheaper.

Also, unless you are already wealthy or have a family job waiting, get a degree based on what you like, but it must be fairly lucrative. Accounting, Finance, IT, CS, Engineering, etc. Stay away from art degrees and English majors. The subjects are fascinating, but it's awful hard to land a good job in those majors. Also, being a professor is very difficult to get into and getting tenure is even harder, so you probably want to skip that route.


Germany, With some modifications: not completely free but very low tuition costs with adjusted repayment plans based on the income upon graduation.

Why? Because most folks dont really want to start their professional lives with massive debt right out of the gates.


>Students who now go to schools who do nothing for them and have no chance of paying their loans -- or spend most of their adult life trying to -- would be dissuaded from making that incorrect financial choice.

The feedback loop for that is incredibly slow and incomplete. University reputations move on the order of decades, and only a handful of universities enter the public consciousness by way of reputation. Most students also don't have the freedom of choice to go to any university of their choosing (or everyone would go to the 'best' one). 'invisible hand' arguments just don't work on this one.


I'm baffled by adults that grew up with computers yet seem to be unable to google a school for their reputation and the job prospects for graduates.

Back in my day, pre-internet, every high school guidance counselor had catalogs that compared schools, so did public libraries, and magazines like US News & World Report would annually publish rankings.


US News still publishes rankings, that's why every college has three Vice-Chancellors of Gaming the US News Rankings.

(See Cathy O'Neil's "Weapons of Math Destruction", where she blames US News rankings specifically for the bloat of universities and the overuse of adjuncts.)


Gaming a magazine is one thing, but I'm not sure how schools are able to game google to hide "graduating" masses of unhappy, unqualified, and unemployable students.


I'm not sure people ARE ignorant of that. When I was in school people would make jokes about what they'd do after college "I'm an English major, so probably wait tables. Ha ha ha!" And I always wanted to say "That's literally true."

My perception is that people, especially at that age, feel pressure to follow a track, and going to college is expected, and some majors are easy, and so they follow the path of least resistance.


I love going off a tangent so here's so wthing previously on hn

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8777899


When there's disconnect between the happytalk of the university and the employability/performance of students the students will blame themselves for not working hard enough. They will not blame the university for having an outdated curriculum or incompetent faculty.

My institution offers a seven-year combined BS/MD program. Graduate on time, get an MCAT score above the national mean and a decent GPA, and after 3 years you are automatically admitted to the institution's medical school. One requirement for admission into this program is an ACT score >= 32. Of this cohort, only 60 % made the cut.

60 % is low. This can't all be students that transferred out because the undergrad instruction is too awful or are otherwise incapable. I would put the blame squarely on the irrelevant curriculum and also would not hire anyone from that place because the level of instruction is just too low.


Traditionally, a university's function was to educate students, not to make them employable. I spent years in graduate school learning the obscure details of my discipline, but I didn't take classes on how to get 22 year olds jobs.


Automatic medical school admission? Can you tell me what this institution is or where I could find a list of universities with similar programs?


You just ask Google for things like "seven-year bs/md program" or "seven-year program". It's interesting to see that Google's autocomplete offers up suggestions like "seven-year program ranking". It makes sense, they are becoming popular.


Feedback loops for "Is this degree a good investment?" are slow because it can take 15 years or more between starting an undergraduate degree to reaching maximum salary (and/or fully paying off loans).

So you can only really report on how good value a course was 15 years ago - and in the intervening period, there's a good chance the academics, curriculum, price, industry and economy will have changed a great deal.


But if student loans existed in a competitive market, there would exist huge incentive for loan providers to do everything they could to really figure these things out. I completely take your point that this feedback would never be exact, but with federal student loans, the current feedback is about as worse as it could be. In a true market system, loan providers -- who would care a lot about being paid back! -- would require higher rates for schools with more dubious success, and would therefore tighten the feedback loop between school quality and student enrollment.


Right, but in a market, if loans allowed to fluctuate with propensity of it being paid off, the student who'd be about to enroll in a good-for-nothing school would be facing far, far higher rates... which would tighten that feedback loop.


It not being an ideal free market doesn't change the fact that it's a market and it has market-ish dynamics.


This is a good answer. The price increase is not uniform across the academy, and much of it is signaling-based. At many state schools, the amount spent per student has actually gone down over the last 30 years: https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/uc-educational-e...

College is more expensive for the student because state funding for students has dropped precipitously. That means an increase in tuition, but that increase pretty linearly-maps to the decrease in state funding.

Now. many private schools have increased their nameplate cost. This is the signaling issue I mentioned before. When StateU tuition rises from $5k/yr to $10/yr over 5 years, the private universities use that increase to justify an increase in their nameplate cost from $25k/yr to $40k/yr, because they can. Of course, few people actually pay that. Increases in the actual amount people pay for college (other than at 4-year state funded schools, due to the changes in state funding) are much tamer than the headlines say: http://www.businessinsider.com/college-cost-changes-over-25-...


By the numbers people tend to go to 4 year state funded schools.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/183995/us-college-enroll...

I think 'other than' isn't really the right phrase to use when excluding 3/4 of students.


That's missing his point.

People think that the prices are rising dramatically. He's pointing out that for 3/4s of people those price rises aren't price rises, it's just the person directly paying has changed from the state (i.e. paying via taxation) to the individual student paying. This looks like a price rise to the individual student, but not to the University receiving the payment.


My quibble is with Increases in the actual amount people pay for college (other than at 4-year state funded schools, due to the changes in state funding) are much tamer than the headlines say:

Pretty sure I understood it correctly and that my point is germane. The increases in tuition at public schools are real increases in the actual amount that most people pay for college (which was my point, it doesn't work good to hand wave away the effect on the majority).

As you say, they aren't entirely from increases in spending on college, but again, it says actual amount people pay, which doesn't really imply total spending, it implies the cost to the student.


I think we agree, the question is what is the next step. The common rhetoric we hear is that tuition is increasing because those greedy Universities are charging too much, and spending wastefully. My argument is that that's a false narrative. The amount spent on students is relatively flat, and the staff and faculty at state schools are more efficient and are doing more with less than they were 30 years ago. What we should be doing in response to the increase in tuition is to restore state funding, not attacking the Universities.


> Universities fear that if they were to stamp their feet and refuse to supply these amenities in the name of keeping down tuition, matriculation rates would decline as students would seek greener pastures elsewhere.

I find this so fascinating. In a normal market, demand is driven by differentiating factors, and I imagine paying for a reduced set of services could be wildly popular. I certainly never took advantage of most of the services I paid for in college—I was too busy with school.

Meanwhile, schools appear to be in the race for positioning schools as anything but a place to get a degree.... which is the entire role of college in society today.

I would quit my job and finish my degree tomorrow if there was a "no bullshit, we'll just get you your degree as fast as possible" option. But all I see are residency requirements, tuition that appears to be at least an order of magnitude more than what my professors cumulatively make from teaching me, etc etc. Very disheartening to someone who loves the culture of academia.

And don't forget, they STILL make you buy textbooks and allow the profs to pocket the profits.


Meanwhile, schools appear to be in the race for positioning schools as anything but a place to get a degree.... which is the entire role of college in society today.

Yes and no. Elite colleges have another purpose, which for many will be the primary purpose - it's how the next generation of the elite meet and get to know each other over the course of a few years, with plenty of leisure time in which to do so. Membership of the Bullingdon Club or Skull And Bones will obviously have a far, far greater effect on the outcome of the rest of your life than a generic bachelor's degree. To attract the elite therefore, you need good amenities, because that's what they're really there for. It's also why "Harvard dropout" carries very nearly as much prestige or social signal as "Harvard graduate" - getting in is the real goal, getting out with a degree is just the icing on the cake.

Similar is true of "party schools", or certain colleges where everyone just does activism full-time and no-one goes to lectures anyway.


Also, consider that the desire for greener pastures is a very top-down cultural thing in the US, that's not always true world wide (though, it increasingly seems that way.)

By number of students, most higher ed institutions are community colleges, which are (for the most part) low on the BS and extra fun. For profits, and a growing number of 'bootcamp' type schools also fit in this area.

However, 4 year schools (starting off with good ol' Harvard) completely dominate the idea of what higher ed is like. Employers still revere 4 year degrees and a "big name" still has its advantages. Many students grow up thinking that's the only/right/best option for them - so between dozens of essentially equivalently good schools (i.e. The "Top 50", and arguable the top 100-200 too), students pick on factors other than learning.

A few months ago, 538 wrote a fun piece called "Shut Up About Harvard", which is worth a read. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/shut-up-about-harvard/


Here in the UK my wife has degrees from 4 universities - from middle ranking to prestigious and by her accounts by far the worst teaching was at by far the most prestigious (and we are talking about a world top 20 institution).

Having worked in academia this doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

NB I know these ranking schemes are pretty dubious.


I also have a degree from a prestigious university where the teaching ranged from mediocre to good. IMO, the quality of the teaching (or lack thereof) was secondary to the fact that the academic bar was set significantly higher than at most other institutions and that I was surrounded by the caliber of classmates who had both the aspiration and capability to excel.


I have to agree. I went to a top 10 UK university which was very much focused on research. The teaching was okay to poor but the level you had to meet to pass the exams was high and I did project work with some of the brightest people I've met who pushed me. I saw some of the work my peers were doing at other universities and it was a walk in the park.


I think the reason is that customers interested in "no bullshit" (<=middle class) are not bringing the bulk of the cash. Nearly every community college I have seen fits your description very well. Public universities have a goal to get people that are wealthier and will donate.


> I would quit my job and finish my degree tomorrow if there was a "no bullshit, we'll just get you your degree as fast as possible" option.

Have you checked out WGU? It's online only, acredited, fast-if-you-are-fast paced. My only criticism is that the BS in IT: Software Development does not have a strong math background. WGU also offers a master's in IT Security. A lot of the classes will double as certifications, too. I think you'll get a lot less bullshit here than normally possible.


Have you read the actual article that for Parkinson's Law?

In there you will find the oft-overlooked Law of Multiplication of Subordinates. The findings were based on the expansion of Admiralty in Great Britain after WWI.

TL;DR: administration kept expanding even though the number of ships was reduced to 1/3 the size.

This is much the same problem identified in the article, what you have said and what I have seen in corporate america as well. Too much administration, some of it required via legislation/regulatory matters.

http://www.economist.com/node/14116121


Having also worked in higher ed for quite a long time (I've been out since 2004) I always quipped that young people really just want "lifestyle camps" or "lifestyle towns" where they can have the experience they want without all the pesky classes and studying getting in the way. Go there for a couple years, party down, then maybe move on in life. It would save a lot of people a lot of hardship and pain.


I've thought this too and I bet it could be done for far less than half the cost.

You'd have a lot less debt and roughly equal job prospects when you "graduated".


When I look back at my undergrad years, my favorite time was the week of no classes which was intended to give students time to study for finals, but was actually largely used to socialize.


This. I worked in residential life while I was in college. One of the key things that was emphasized to us was that colleges and universities are now becoming accessible to a much larger section of the population, to the point where kids that a generation ago would have stayed at home because they couldn't handle life at a university are now able to attend. This is why everything under the purview of the dean of students has ballooned: dorms are not dorms anymore. They are not where you sleep, but where you live as a community with the support from the university. And to fund that, the university must charge more. Strictly speaking as a student you do get a lot more services at a university today than you did 10 or 20 or 50 years ago. It just comes at a cost, and there is no cheaper alternative that is just as good (taking into account actual education as well as perceived value of your degree).


> Add to this the fact that Universities receive no penalty from the market for continually increasing their prices.

This article is about universities in the UK, and they cannot arbitrarily decide to increase their tuition fees for home student.

> Because student loans are available to service ever increasing tuition costs

For many, a drop in tuition fees would never actually be noticed. For those that start to notice, it'll only make a difference when they're much older. This is because student loans in the UK are income contingent, and forgiven after a set period. Most people will not pay off their loans before they are forgiven.


True that there is an expectation of the many non-academic needs of students is also well served. In Norway, this is done by an organization separate from the university ('Studentsamskipnad' or Student Welfare Organization). It is responsible for housing, health- services, food et.c. Students pay their semester fee (<100USD) to this organization (no tuition). Possibly this helps for keeping focus on academic needs in universities, though I don't know whether it helps or hinders organizational bloat.


In the US this is often handled by using funds from educational loans. I knew many years ago one or two people in college who took the money they got from educational loans and used it as a fund to acquire and sell large quantities of narcotics, which they built into a lifestyle business while they were at university.


I don't know how common it is anymore, but back in the 1990s it was completely possible to use a student loan to get room and board and then cancel your room and board in the first couple days of school and get a big fat check. A fair number of people did this just because off campus housing and food were cheaper.

I wonder if students can still easily do this.


I'm a researcher at a university in Germany. Here in Germany, the administration has also been growing for many years and it's growing much faster than research staff. I have never heard anyone say that the administration is staffed with redundant workers. Everyone agrees that the admin people are totally overloaded. The primary reason is, as you say, regulations. However, my impression is that a lot of these regulations are home-made and completely unnecessary. Some people in admin (clearly not everyone) seem to have a tendency to make up new regulations that serve no real purpose apart from securing their own jobs. In a perverse sense, this may actually be rational behavior, so it is not surprising that this is happening. However, this means that poor management is in fact to blame, because what is poor management if not prioritizing your own personal agenda over the good of the institution you're working for. Disclaimer: My experience with (several) German institutions may obviously not translate to US universities. I have worked for one US university (UC system) and I have only (well, mostly) good things to say about the administration there.


University of Phoenix is a complete scam, FYI, not a good example here.


University of Phoenix is a profit driven entity. They started out as a vocational option for military veterans but in an environment where students loans ballooned, so did Phoenix. They focus on collecting as many students as possible, helping them get loans and promising them a college education. My wife taught for them for a short time and from what I saw, the students and the education was not at a college level.

Students would be better off going to a local community college for 2 years and then transferring to a state school to graduate. Tuition is lower, education is better.

The rapid growth of online degrees may bring competition to the market. Currently, many students choose in-state schools because it is a better value that moving somewhere else. Online allows schools anywhere to compete for those students and may start to drive prices down. Prestige will still be important for more elite universities but I suspect solid state schools may attract students by expanding online options.


Paragraph 2 is worth more discussion. I work for a moderate-sized private university in an urban environment. Beyond the startup and labor (staffing, administration) costs of the amenities, they require real estate as well. While suburban/rural universities may have options for constructing new buildings, we have to rely on purchasing real estate in a fluctuating market. Then we have to re-purpose it, often bringing it up to modern health codes. This is expensive to undertake.

A ramification of purchasing real estate, for amenities in current demand, is that we can get stuck with expensive real estate when enrollments are down and, correspondingly, the amenities in those buildings are less used.

The amenities come due to demand. But, they're costly. When amenity use is down, we're kind of stuck with those costs unless we can unload or re-purpose the real estate.

[EDIT: Added "costs" in sentence 3 paragraph 1.]


> and students pretty much need to go to college to succeed in the 21st century

I do not agree with this. There are plenty of trades out there that can earn you a great salary without a degree. If you want a white collar job and are willing to put in the time and effort, there are plenty of ways to connect with employed nerds and show that you are capable of being an employed nerd as well via open source projects. NOBODY sane on github is going to ask for a degree before contributing to open source, and if you do it consistently would likely be as impressive as on-the-job experience.


I feel like University of Phoenix, a for-profit university, is a bit unfair of a comparison to a not-for-profit university. Especially when a significant portion of for-profit universities aren't properly accredited, and actually represent a very significant portion of student loan obligations (see https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/the-fai...).


The point is that alternatives are appearing that provide education without the mini-city like atmosphere and cost of the traditional university. You are absolutely correct though, many for profit alternatives are not accredited and some of them can be quite predatory. I believe the poster was referencing University of Phoenix as pure "education service." They are accredited.

A lot of people who have been to university would probably defend the mini-city model as integral to the experience. More pragmatic folks might argue otherwise.


The article recognizes this and mentions specific regulations to cut in order to reduce administration (at least for the UK).


I work in post secondary administration, so I think I have some perspective here. Part of the problem, at least in the US & Canada (Where I live) is that post secondary institutions are positioning themselves less and less and places to get an education and more and more as places to go for an "experience." Its no longer enough to provide a quality education, universities now are selling themselves on their facilities, their "student life" and all the other intangibles that are secondary to actual education. This leads to all the administrative bloat we're seeing as now that many schools are functioning more like glorified 4 years spas they have to have departments filled with staff to plan events, throw parties, Snapchat sports games, provide "save spaces," etc.

I haven't been in the sector long enough to have a real handle on when or why this shift happened, but from my perspective its the primary driver of the increasing administrative bloat. Schools are competing more on the intangibles, and so they need to invest more into these areas, which means more staff and more overhead.

Personally I think the whole university model isn't long for this world though as there are plenty of ways competency can be signaled apart from a fancy foil-stamped piece of paper and eventually when the costs of university education don't provide a positive return over any reasonable time horizon students are going to start looking for alternatives en masse and the market will innovate to meet that demand.


This is the view of people who have not really looked at university budgets. "experiences" are cheap compared to headcount. Buildings and experiences are mainly funded by outside donation specifically for the experience or building. People do not often donate to "expand salaries and headcount for faculty and administrators".

The result is that students pay for headcount and donors pay for experiences. It isn't just administrative headcount, it is also teaching headcount. If you want a low price, you cannot have a $200,000 a year professor teaching 30 students and doing some research unless the research is funding their salary.

We need to lower the cost of colleges in the United States dramatically and that means tough choices, but it won't happen until we reach the point where student loan defaults are so prevalent that the federal gov can no longer subsidize them.

We have a crisis on our hands and our politicians are talking about lowering the cost of borrowing by 2%, and making colleges "free". They are not interested in driving down the real cost of an education.


On the research point, why are research and teaching commingled? Both are important, but it seems that they require very different skillsets. Would we be better off filling universities primarily with people who love teaching, and are great at it, and having some other kind of institution (or some separate division of universities) do the research? Is this heresy?


IIRC there's a fairly strong correlation between content mastery and teaching ability, even at the high school level, far more than the correlation between level of teacher training and teaching ability.

Obviously there's other factors (effort, as you point out).

Though I think it's partly an artifact of the days when an undergrad degree would bring students to the leading edge of research, so there was simply no-one else qualified. There would have been a lot more synergy when researchers were explaining cutting edge ideas to students (it still happens a bit, but it's the exception rather than the rule).


>Though I think it's partly an artifact of the days when an undergrad degree would bring students to the leading edge of research, so there was simply no-one else qualified. There would have been a lot more synergy when researchers were explaining cutting edge ideas to students (it still happens a bit, but it's the exception rather than the rule).

Yes, that was my suspicion too -- historically, students were only going to those lectures where they were actually interested and which they were much closer to the level of the lecturer. In that case, the bottleneck isn't "ability to be a good explainer to novices" but "ability to answer arbitrary questions".

IOW, it looked more like grad school today, where the good researchers naturally are a better fit for teaching, and don't mind it as much.


On the research point, why are research and teaching commingled?

They aren't. To an ever increasing extent, undergraduate teaching is done by adjunct staff, who are not involved in research, and who work on a temporary basis.

Professors with good research funding can often buy themselves out of all or part of their teaching load. Many choose to teach only the upper level or graduate courses, where immersion in research is in fact a useful qualification for teaching.

Disclosure: I was an adjunct for one semester, many years ago.


In large part it's an unfortunate consequence of how academia works; but I think in large part, what you're asking for is happening: the proportion of instructors who are lecturers and adjuncts, rather than tenure-track/tenured professors, has steadily increased over the years [1].

Meanwhile, tenure-track/tenured professors tend to focus primarily on teaching upper-level classes, which suits them infinitely better. The students they get are much more knowledgeable, which frees profs from worrying too much about background knowledge; by sheer virtue of selection bias, students that aren't interested have been filtered out; and the material is much closer to the work the profs themselves actually do.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-eve...


The main reason they are commingled is that teachers need to have mastery of what they teach. As subjects become more difficult, fewer and fewer people have the required mastery to teach a subject. At the end of this (i.e. graduate level courses) the only ones with sufficient mastery are those that are doing the research.

For lower level subjects (i.e. most undergraduate courses) this is much less an issue, but the above still explains why we need researchers to also teach. Issues occur when you let a brilliant but eccentric mathematician teach calculus 101. His research is in no way relevant to the course, and he might not be able to explain things on that base a level.


> At the end of this (i.e. graduate level courses) the only ones with sufficient mastery are those that are doing the research.

Sadly, sufficient mastery of the subject often comes at the cost of sufficient mastery of teaching, which becomes especially important for such difficult subjects. If only some of that money spent on more staff was spent on assistant teachers whose main skill was teaching and coaching other teachers, and providing paid hours for both of them to fix the curriculum together...

Anyway, I fully agree with your second paragraph. Another issue is that of researchers not really seeming to care, having an attitude of "you shouldn't be in University unless you really want to learn this, and I'm not going to try to motivate you or help you with that." There's some truth to that, but it also sometimes feels like it's used as a way to mask their own teaching incompetence.

I was asked to be an assistant teacher after graduating from my masters, and I completely freaked out about the responsibility of making sure I wouldn't fuck up my student's education (I cared more than most of my students did). I almost declined the job offer! I was basically told "yeah we know, that's part of why we want you."

Anyway, I spent a lot of time on-line trying to find advice on the dos and dont's of education. I can say that the best two lecture were Eric Mazur's Confessions of a Converted Lecturer[0] and John Corrigan's Are We Listening To Our Children?[1]. I think every teacher should watch these at least once.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwslBPj8GgI

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvgbvtxYRX4


Honestly, when mastery of the subject becomes detrimental to teaching the subject, your not taking the highest-level courses. A great researcher has to teach and convince themselves, those skills translate to teaching at that level.

I'm mostly thinking about the highest level math courses though.


I guess you're talking about the point where it's more collaboration on a half-solved problem than data transfer about solidified knowledge? Because then I agree, but that's a really different type of knowledge transfer we're talking about then.


There's a point before collaboration, where you ask a researcher to bring a student up to the level of the researcher. At that point, the student and researcher struggle with similar enough problems that the researcher can think from the students perspective.


Anecdotally, I've had only one professor who excelled in conducting research and teaching concurrently. The rest either disliked teaching or were completely enthralled in their research, and we as students suffered.


AFAICT, there aren't that many people looking for jobs who love teaching and are great at it. Teaching is a really hard skill: it's hard to get, and it's hard to be good at it. That is somewhat heretical in higher ed, it's research that's supposed to be hard and teaching is the thing you do as a matter of course. Unfortunately, research and teaching are generally very different skills. It happens that sometimes you find people that are great at both. I happen to think that if you are great at one, you will be great at the other, but if you are only good at one, you could be totally terrible at the other. This might just be because people that are great at one thing could be great at anything.

There's a meme in research that teaching helps you do better at research. The story sounds plausible: to do a good job at teaching, you break the subject down into its component parts and tease out the essence, then package that up to deliver it. Perhaps through this process of repeatedly breaking your subject down to teach it, this process will eventually lead you to think about something differently, and then maybe you get an idea for your research. I've talked to people that say they have had this happen to them.

Partly because the idea that teaching is hard is heretical, though, professors really de-prioritize teaching when they are mentoring new professors. So not much in the way of classroom skill gets passed down from generation to generation, and it's up to the individual professor to re-discover how to teach when they start their career. Outcomes vary. Additionally, because of the idea that teaching is not hard, new professors (and professor trainees) are discouraged from spending too much time on teaching, so in my experience, when it's done well, it's done either by someone that takes more time than they ought (potentially at the expense of their career) or someone that is just so great at everything they do, that it works out okay.

This means there are just not that many people floating around who know how to teach and are amped up to do it. You see this when you try to staff "lecturer" positions at US universities, where that term means "someone who teaches but does no research." Those positions might even come with their own analogue to the tenure track! And you can interview dozens of people that can't really lecture, or teach.

If you go to grad school, you get indoctrinated very quickly to the idea that teaching is easy, you should do it with your eyes closed, but you should put in the minimal amount of work required before doing something that really matters, like publishing papers. I think it's hard to find people that can teach because those people wash out of grad school very early when they find out that their attempts at teaching well will not be rewarded.

This is not true if you look at the tiny liberal arts colleges, though. They actually care about teaching. However, if you go to grad school, you go to an R1 school (because tiny liberal arts colleges can't afford grad students) and R1 professors think that becoming a liberal arts college professor is a shade of failure, so they will strongly discourage you from going down that path.


No, it's the difference between a liberal arts college and a university.


30 students? Many of my lectures at UWaterloo in Canada were closer to 300. I guess that's why my tuition was only $10k.


Tuition in Canada is heavily subsidized, 80% of the cost is covered by tax payers.


According to their audited financial statements [0] grants accounted for only $388 million against $917 million in expenses (or about 42%).

[0] https://uwaterloo.ca/finance/sites/ca.finance/files/uploads/...


I work at a big state university as well and completely agree. The amount of money spent on luxury dorms, extravagant academic buildings, athletic facilities, student entertainment, and administrative on top of adminstrative staff is stunning.

Some of the facility spending, especially in athletics, is paid for by donors and athletics also has revenue from the major sport events, but there is huge spending and bloat on the academic side a well, funded by ever increasing tuition and fees that I just cannot see being sustainable.


There area a number of comments in this thread similar to yours on the topic of university as an 'experience'. I started my undergrad degree in 1999, and I think that was very much the case at that time as well. It was the same for the dorm community that is mentioned as another reason in other comments.

All of that was pretty similar then, and this was when UC tuition was still very, very reasonable.

The main difference, maybe, was that at that time the experience was less controlled, and less managed. The dorm I lived in first year was run by fourth year undergrads and grad students, and their responsibility was basically to make sure that no one was opening vodka bottles in the common room, or setting off smoke detectors with bongs or puking in the elevator. They were compensated with free or heavily reduced room and board.

The experience was less controlled and less micro managed across all aspects of university life at that time, and even more so prior. My admittedly unsubstantiated viewpoint is that the proliferation of control mechanisms, and transition of traditionally subsidized experience management to formal salaried roles is a big contributor to the unnecessary increase in bureaucracy, and it has a negative long term effect on learning from both the academic and the 'experience' side of things.


Yep; this is the same problem people talk about when they talk about bundling. Not interested in a gym membership? It doesn't matter, your tuition is still going to go to subsidize the gym at the university.

It's also worth pointing out how colleges end up benefiting from having captive customers. It's usually more difficult for a 17-18 year old to rent a place off campus and commute, and many schools even have policies against that. And a social environment is encouraged in dorms and dining halls, so students who aren't buying stuff from the "company store" end up at a loss. Whether or not the school is good at managing housing and food is often immaterial.


I think there's somewhat of a vicious cycle at work. Someone paying $50k/yr. wants more than classes in a run down building, and then a threadbare dorm to sleep in. That's a ton of money, and I don't think it's ridiculous for people to expect a pretty darned nice experience (inside and outside the classroom for that). But of course, providing those facilities and experiences costs a lot, so tuition increases. And with the increased tuition, so too increase expectations, and the cycle repeats. I'm not saying it's right, but it's what I've observed.


So you don't think the financialization of higher education has played a significant role?


>I haven't been in the sector long enough to have a real handle on when or why this shift happened, but from my perspective its the primary driver of the increasing administrative bloat. Schools are competing more on the intangibles, and so they need to invest more into these areas, which means more staff and more overhead.

If I had to actually guess, it probably started around the time they realized that the Millenial matriculation cohort was going to start "running down", resulting in universities having to either reduce their selectivity (which is death for a private uni) or somehow retain their selectivity by attracting more of a limited applicant pool. At the same time, there's a secular trend in cutting per-student funding for state universities.

The result is that state schools need to bring in more tuition money (forcing prices up on their end, reducing price competition against over-expensive private schools), while private schools need to retain selectivity (so they compete harder for students who can pay).


I think it makes sense why people compete on experiences. Can you really differentiate how much you're learning between the top 50 (or even 300) schools? It really depends on personal motivation.

And in terms of non-educational successes, the school name alone often provides the value, and since it's virtually impossible get an exact value, schools compete on other factors.

Combined with the fact students are more and more willing to go further away from home to get a degree, you need to offer something more than education. Going to a good school (and doing the work) will be challenging regardless of where it is, and I think most people realize this at some level -- so you look for the place that will make you happy otherwise. Slogging through finals week anywhere is tough, but it's hell if you also hate the school you're at and wish you were somewhere else.

As far as the "university model" -- it's got problems, definitely. But the value of the top schools has always been the name. Consider that graduates of top schools are so overrepresented in the highest levels of both the public and private sector, it will be hard to break the cycle of top-down everyone buying into the idea of a 4 year degree. It will probably happen at some point, but it seems slow going.

The biggest schools (especially R1-level unis) fare much better in terms of providing funding and aid to students, so they aren't always as cost prohibitive as many for profit schools are (where the vast majority of student loan debt is tied up).


I don't think that's it. Simultaneously, health care has seen the same massive growth of administration and shift of money away from the actual service (professors/physicians).


> Schools are competing more on the intangibles

Because you can share course videos, but you can't share intangibles.


You lost me at "provide safe places" because it's apparent what kind of bias you have


Not sure about student party life experience given the recent rise of "no-fault" false rape allegations. Cannot be as careless anymore.


There is a huge new "student ethics" bureaucracy to handle that stuff that never used to exist. In the past, if you got drunk and did something you later regretted, that was your problem, as it is for any adult in the real world.


That's not true at all. Universities used to be much more involved in student life. Read up on 'In Loco Parentis' in higher education.


They were involved in a supervisory role. All male or all female dorms, mandatory on-campus housing, curfews, tightly controlled visitation and social events. Now, students get to do whatever they want and are only held to account after the fact. There is a huge ethics bureaucracy with committees conducting hearings, investigations, and various other CYA activities after the shit has hit the fan.


I think university laxity peaked in the 80s. Starting in the early 90s the PC movement began to police behavior as it had from the 60s on back.


"An ounce of prevention is cheaper than a pound of cure" comes to mind.


Exactly and eerily true. At my university there this is a category 2 serious incident; like a fire, flood or epidemic. Any student admitted to emergency medical care due to inebriation, means the Serious Incident Officer is involved. How the SIO is supposed to find out I don't know.

I struggle to understand why relatively high-level management or SIO needs to be paid to get involved in what another 'adult' does out side of lectures/labs and campus.


Yes. This is why I refuse to donate to my alma mater anymore. Tuition has nearly tripled in in fourteen years while they are still teaching the same number of students with roughly the same or fewer full time faculty. There's something seriously wrong with that and this is a huge symptom of it. Until they get their shit together, they need less money coming in, not more. This is supposed to be a nonprofit institution but clearly many people are making big money in this business at the expense of students. The federal loan programs certainly don't help either. Allowing student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy would also lessen this money feast for universities. Alas, no solution looks in sight so I do my part in keeping money away from these money furnaces.


> donate to my alma mater

I've heard of people doing this but why would you ever have donated your money to someone you have already paid? I wouldn't donate to my pizza place, my doctor, or my barber. Why would a college be different?


Donating to your Alma Matter signals that (1) you succeeded and (2) that your Alma Matter helped you succeed. Given enough donations, this boosts your own prestige.

Or, reverse this: if I go to a school and that school suddenly starts to suck, then I will be tainted with the school sucking.

Either way, it's a problem of credentialism.


My college did a lot of good for me, and the staff I interacted with seemed to be working below-market because they believed in what they were doing. It's a non-profit institution so I expect they would spend donations on something that they thought (rightly or wrongly) furthered education rather than just giving them to someone. And what I paid at the time was subsidised by previous donors and the government, at a time when I couldn't've afforded to pay much more; now that I've done well in life, in a way that seems at least partly off the back of that education, it seems fair to contribute something back.


I donate to my university, I do it to fund scholarships and programs that I benefited from when attending. I don't donate to the 'general fund'. Although the bulk of my donations to my alma mater go to cancer treatment center at the university medical center which relies on fundraising for research and other programs which I believe will benefit all. I would never donate to revamp a student union as I believe that should be paid for by the University.


Money is fungible. Every dollar donated to the medical center is a dollar freed up from the general fund (until the medical center is totally funded with earmarked donations, of course).


Is tuition actually going up by that much? Most schools raise prices to raise scholarships to raise rankings, leaving revenue virtually flat.

There is a coordinated effort to temporarily exempt schools from antitrust rules so they can collectively coordinate a tuition drop, and stop the fake scholarship arms race.


Yes, tuition is actually going up by that much (20k vs 50k). Even inflation adjusted it's still almost double. Room and board has also almost tripled (5k vs 15k). At this rate, in fifteen years or so, I'd expect to pay 100k a year just in tuition or almost half a million per child. Luckily I have no kids, but if I do they're going to learn prefect German or other language that gets them free tuition in Europe. Fuck these prices. Even for a software engineer making good money, they are simply not achievable.


Where are you seeing tuition of $20k or $50k? Public universities in state are closer to $10k a year, even out of state isn't usually anywhere near $50k.


My alma mater, a northeast, private university ranked in the top 50. It was actually ranked higher when I was there and cost $20k. Now tuition alone is just shy of $50k.


But does anyone but the scions of the 0.1% actually ever pay that $50k nameplate cost? For example, Brown University in Rhode Island has a nameplate cost of $49k. However, the average net cost paid by students there in 2016 was only $25k. Students with a family income under $75k paid an average of $12k. That nameplate number is just bogus, in most cases.

Source: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?q=brown&s=all&pg=3&id=...


Sounds familiar. I went to a highly ranked private college where tuition went from 35k in 2007, to about 50k only 4 years later, and now it's around 60k I believe. The professors were mostly excellent and well known in their fields, but at the same time many departments were understaffed while the university spent 42 million dollars on an "Institute for Global Citizenship" that ended up being mostly unused, though it is pretty:

https://img.apmcdn.org/c1675e4ec7a7aec84a32edbfe93999b018c70...


That may be true, but the average net price paid by Macalester students has been flat at $28k for the past three years. The increase in the nameplate cost is meaningless.

Source: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?q=macalester&s=all&id=...


I am surprised it's that low, but it's not meaningless if you're one of the ones paying full price. I / my parents paid the full amount of tuition all four years (minus 20,000$ or so for a national merit scholarship), in part because they had actually saved up.


There are private high schools that cost tens of thousands of dollars too. The OP was talking as if this was normal. The average student is going going to a state school and paying somewhere near $10k a year for tuition.

If you can't get a scholarship and it's not a top 10 school $50k per year probably isn't worth paying.


Most of the public schools around me are ~$10k a semester, not a year.


And then with 10-15k for overpriced student housing since most colleges make mandatory for Freshmen and sometimes even Sophomores. Then you might have to pay 1k a year to pay for a parking spot. 2-5k for cafeteria access. Add it all up and you've got 80k-100k(at 4%-9% interest) for four years at a state school. Its not impossible to get out from under but it represents a large delay, especially for degrees with low ROI


>most colleges

That's not even close to true.

Most public schools don't have residency requirements. The ones that do normally have waivers that are easy to get.

I've also never heard of a school with a residency requirement for sophomores.


Random googling turns up 87 colleges that have residency requirements[1]. So you're right that it isn't "most" but it is also not super rare. I'm just saying its a sneaky way for colleges to bump up costs. Most college students won't go through the work to get a waiver and will just go with the flow. Its like the difference between opt-in and opt-out.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/freshman-resi...


The article you posted says that "the vast majority" of those 87 schools are private.

I said most public schools.

I don't really care about the cost of private schools just like I don't care about the cost of private boarding high schools.


Where are you? The average cost of tuition + fees for instate students is less than $10k per year.

Even the UC schools in California are close to that.


Spaniard here. I pay around 750€ a year. If I can prove I don't make much money, not only I don't have to pay, they'll also pay part of (or the entirety of) my rent, food, etc.

100k a year is just, wow.


From my anecdotal perspective, at private institutions (especially the Ivy's) your statement seems accurate. For public universities tuitions have been skyrocketing without any increase in scholarship funding. In fact my school recently cut funding to merit-based scholarships because they no longer have the money from the state to offer them.


Sadly, big donors, the ones who can give multimillion dollar gifts, aren't really helping. They're prone to ego-driven gifts of big monuments to themselves rather than funding scholarships or research.


I do agree that admin costs are too high. However I think most of the tuition growth is due to decreases in state and federal funding.


That's true for state schools, where subsidies have been cut almost universally.


Look at any state university org chart from 30 years ago compared to today. The difference will be striking. Yes state subsidies are down, but administrative growth has also been accelerating.


This is a private school so I'm not sure how much that applies. I haven't been able to find any figures on this, however, so I suppose it's possible.


When student loans were able to be discharged in bankruptcy, it was popular to declare bankruptcy on graduation. By the time they saved up enough for a down payment on a house, the bankruptcy will have fallen off the records, so effectively they got a free education (not the ideal mechanism for doing so, better to give people free education upfront).

Maybe there is a middle ground where student debt is not easily discharged, but can be in some cases (eg: graduated 10-20yrs ago, could never find a steady job).

Ideally we as a country should decide to make trade schools/college free (or at least give people $10k/yr towards tuition). This would not be a huge increase the in budget as we already spend ~$10k/yr (depends on state) to send kids to high school.


All student loans should be subject to income-based repayment. They can still be very difficult/impossible to discharge in bankruptcy, but you shouldn't have to make significant payments on them unless you're actually making decent money.


This is how it works in Australia and it works very well IMO.

It also indexes with inflation so that there isn't a major stress if you graduate with a low paying job and work your way up to a higher salary.

This does mean its everyone's lowest priority to pay off, but you can't reasonably avoid paying it other than not making an income.


It works exactly like this in the US. People who aren't currently in college just aren't aware of it.


This is how it works in Germany. Tuition is (almsot) free, but you get an allowance (up to aprox €850 IIRC) every month, if you and your parents don't have a high income. In most German states you a) only have to pay back up to €10k of that and you only have to pay if you make more than a pretty high number that I forgot AND you have a graceperiod of several years before you even to start paying after you leave uni. Consequently, I know nobody who has difficulty making payments.


All federal student loans work exactly like this, and Federal loans account for 90% of all loan disbursements.


> (or at least give people $10k/yr towards tuition)

This just means the colleges will raise their price by $10k/year. They will charge what the market will bear and capture the subsidy for themselves.


More like by 15k/yr. Administrators need to be paid too. It's the same problem as with the government. It's not their money, so they're spending it like it's about to expire.


The budget of stanford pasted in this thread shows that tuition is 20% of the income alone.

Sure, tuition could be made cheaper, but i'd say the incentives got perverted because they don't need more students at all. They get their money from somewhere else.


Could you find a source with the exact numbers or statistics that made this popular? Its possible it was done, but to say it was popular makes me skeptical.


https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66 lists it as ~$12k/student for the 2013-14 school year.


Really? Source?


Source for the bankruptcy: http://archive.gao.gov/f1102a/101903.pdf


Wow, 4 people in 1975-1976 made over 90k in todays dollars and still declared bankruptcy and dissolved their student loans.

The report doesn't say why those 4 specifically went bankrupt, but does talk about some issues affecting these people. Injury, large business losses. Guess we better ban anybody from dissolving student loans!


Consider donating time or money to underfunded public schools or community colleges. A lot of these programs are chronically underfunded and teach those who are most likely disadvantaged in the first place.


Allowing discharging of student debts in bankruptcy will lead to lenders tightening who they loan to, leading to the poorest of Americans not getting loans, and therefore no academic way to claw out of heavy poverty.


Why won't a poor high-SAT-score, future STEM graduate be able to get a loan? Banks will mostly take into the account the probability of loan repayment, not how poor the person is right now.


A poor, high-SAT-score, STEM student will get scholarships, not loans.


People from poor families drop out at a higher rate than non poor family peoples, as well as carry over lower average earnings and a higher likelihood of defaulting on loans even after graduation. A single generation getting a diploma will not equalize the gap between poorer and richer families.


Stanford is building a new "campus" in Redwood City. 35 acres. 2,700 people on site. None are students. None are faculty. No teaching or research will occur there. It's all administrators.[1] "School of Medicine administration; Stanford Libraries and University Archives; the major administrative units of Business Affairs; Land, Buildings and Real Estate; University Human Resources; Residential & Dining Enterprises; and the Office of Development", says Stanford's FAQ. ("Development" in university-speak means fund-raising, not building construction.)

Now that's management bloat.

Stanford has only 2,180 faculty members.

[1] https://redwoodcity.stanford.edu/


So they're building Ark B?

This video overview of the project is dangerously close to parody: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKY0QdSElgc

Featuring the:

* Managing Director, Development * Vice President of Public Affairs * Vice President Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer * University Architect and Executive Director, Campus Planning & Design * Director, Architecture * Assistant Vice President for Business Affairs Finance and Facilities * Associate Vice President of Sponsored Research


I hadn't seen that video. That's over the top. The administrators are building themselves an administrative paradise.

This isn't even the entire Stanford administration. There's also the academic administration (deans and such), the Stanford Management Company (the investment operation, established 1991), and Athletic Administration. Those remain on the main campus.

It was in the 1990s that the administrators really took over. As an alum, this is embarrassing. But Stanford no longer has a real alumni association which could pressure the administration. The alumni association was acquired by Stanford's development department in 1998 so they could focus on their core mission of extracting money from alumni.


Malcolm Gladwell's podcast has excoriated these people quite strenuously, and in the process has explained very well how this comes about.

Those aren't telephone sanitizers. Their job is to keep thinking up spectacular things to propose, the better to lure insanely wealthy people into investing in Stanford. Stanford's run (or was) by a guy who as a matter of principle cannot think of ANY reason why any endowment or gift should ever go to any other school or thing that isn't Stanford, no matter how much money Stanford has or how little money anyone else has. He's committed to the proposition that the world's advanced through the consolidation of infinite resources (for Stanford).

As such, 'Office of Development' is a big deal for them, as is Land, Buildings and Real Estate: it's pretty much all about maximizing resources in order to be awarded more gifts to turn into more resources forever. They could not have ANY students or faculty and still function just as they are, if the hyper-wealthy people awarding them money were convinced their mission would be better without students. They could not have ANY students or faculty and still go on for years or decades just on the wealth they've currently got.

This university isn't 'broke'. They're part of the reason everybody else is broke. The idea is that they should have it all, ???, profit!

I'm not sure what metric 'profit' is expressed in. If it's 'money', this is working for Stanford.


The article is about UK Universities. Stanford is not broke. http://facts.stanford.edu/administration/finances


It can still be the case that they are spending excessively on administrators.

They can easily use any potential savings by adjusting the way their scholarships taper off versus income.


Maybe, but using one of the most successful and wealthy institutions in the world as an example of ineffective bloat isn't useful for the overall argument.

"This workout routine is a waste of time and effort. See, look at Usain Bolt doing it."


With the cost of education in the US being so expensive and the constant call for student loan forgiveness ($1 trillion), it might be worth looking into the extra cost. I’m sure Stanford isn’t unique.

The cost of a university education has far outpaced inflation. Harvard cost $2,600 in 1970.

https://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/16/why-college-costs-are-so-hig...


At Stanford, there's no connection between university undergraduate cost and price. Tuition is an unimportant part of the budget.


First, I was talking about the extra cost, in general, with all universities.

Second, since you brought it up, can you explain how they determine the cost of tuition? If it’s unimportant maybe they can simply eliminate it for everyone. Are other universities the same?


> If it’s unimportant maybe they can simply eliminate it for everyone

Sticker price is an important value signal, which draws elites who, as alumnae, support the institution, so what elite universities do is have high sticker prices and then internal need-based financial aid packages that cover much of the costs for non-wealthy students. This also, incidentally, maximizes tuition revenue, as those who can pay from their own pocket or outside scholarships do pay. But maximizes revenue is incidental, because tuition is not the main source of revenue.


If that is the case then something is out of whack.


Actually, it is unique in that cost is no barrier to receiving an education at Stanford.


No, it isn’t unique. Many elite/expensive schools offer either free or heavily discounted tuition for lower and middle income students.

http://nordic.businessinsider.com/how-ivy-league-financial-a...


The point I was making is that the cost of an education is uncoupled (at elite universities) from the ability to afford it.

It may be hopelessly optimistic, but I think that eventually, tuition will and should be eliminated for everyone.. As it stands now, where students from wealthier families pay more, it is a good consolation prize.


In your analogy, are the students his sore muscles?


His pulled hamstring is from over extending this analogy.


This assumes there is any benefit at all to them 'saving' in a situation where they're drowned in money specifically because they already have all the money and seek more from people who assume money is best spent by giving it to entities who already have the most money.

Sort of 'progress through increasing the highest possible score'. In this light, spending excessively on administrators and absurd things is a form of virtue signalling meant to elicit further gifts through demonstrating they are already wealthy beyond all imagining.

That's not a joke: that's actually how it works, and there are many parallels, for instance in the stock market.


Apparently over the years they have reduced administration, at least in some areas. Maybe now they are just slightly less bloated.

That said, some of the boat may have to do with government oversight for their research grants.


But as engineers all of us over 25 know exactly what happens when managers "reduce" "administration".

After said activity there is more administration and less of everything else.


Like interview processes and office design being copied for tech companies, universities clone from the top end schools too. Almost every university starts trying to manage their donations because top schools are making over 10% gains. Building a <facility X> or an <advanced institute of Y> because some other school has one. Even the schools that aren't broke are hemorrhaging funds on construction and real estate investment for buildings that aren't for teaching, research or any other task traditionally associated with being a university...


Yeah, who needs the Library and Archives? The book conservation lab is one of the things in the RWC location, that's clearly overhead that's totally not needed! Buckminster Fuller's models? Let 'em molder.


I don't think the argument is that all 2,700 administrators are unneeded, but rather that everything would run as good (if not better) without that much administration bloat.


For you to make that argument, you must first make the case that 2,700 actually constitutes bloat. Who exactly would you say is expendable and why?

(Not getting down to brass tacks is the great weakness in the article too, I think. The author seems to have an idea that these expendable positions can simply be identified by filtering out anyone who can't explain what they do in non-jargon terms, or asking the surplus employees to simply name themselves so they can be cut. Nothing in business is quite _that_ easy.)


Are you saying that to cut the bloat you actually need to know the business and how the parts fit together ?

Heresy !

If that is true then the whole idea behind management is flawed. (management, MBA, business administration and the like depend on the idea that managing one company is pretty much the same activity as managing another. If what you say is true, that you cannot just generically cut then such people should never be put in charge of companies or even departments, yet that is exactly what is happening in every large company).

(Just a frustrated ex-cisco employee whose manager had an MBA)


I don't have an MBA, but I recognize that there are many aspects to running a good business, common to many businesses, that an MBA can probably help teach. But just like any other college degree, an MBA is a start or a rounding out, not the complete package in and of itself. I know of nobody sane who thinks that you don't need to know your business's specific needs backwards and forwards to run it well.


Well, I work at a big company and

1) I know many people who think like that (in some cases because they have such a position. Manager without knowing what their reports actually do)

2) The hiring decisions made -regularly- prove that this is in fact the overriding opinion in our management.


I refer you back to my qualifying adjective "sane." ;-) Sorry you have to deal with that.


When your core business is teaching, you have more admin than teachers AND your teachers still have spend a lion share of their time doing admin work, I think it's safe to say you some of those 2700 administrators are unneeded and possibly a hindrance.


I don't think it's safe to say that at all. Where do we get this foolish notion that a job involves only one specialized kind of activity?

You wouldn't tell a software engineer that their only job is to crank out code. That's actually a recipe for either 1) an absolute savant, or 2) a severely career-limited engineer. Engineers need to plan, estimate, document, test, troubleshoot, help recruit, and be technical leaders for all sorts of random things that come their way. We often deride that stuff as "admin work" that keeps us from our true calling – but let's be honest, that actually is part of the job description.

Similarly, it would be foolish to tell a professor that their only job is to sit in front of the classroom and teach. They should be expected to spend time improving their pedagogy, attracting students to their program, being a champion and mentor for students, spending some time in public outreach, and otherwise helping to drive their department's curriculum and agenda so it will flourish. At a research university like Stanford, they will be expected to spend time attracting research and research funding as well. Professors may bristle at having to do all that, and they can't do all of that alone – but again, it's part of the job description, and there's good reason why they're being tapped to do it! You really can't expect an admin to drive the research agenda of your department, for example.

So, where does your statement come from? How do you define "admin work"? Are you a teacher that feels like you're tapped to do stuff you shouldn't be doing? Are you really sure that's work that should be delegated?


If you're only trying to make the point that some of any group of 2,700 employees are unneeded and possibly a hindrance, that's a given.

BTW, Stanford has professional schools and a hospital, and is a research university, all of which are activities that don't behave like educating undergraduates.

I'm not really here to defend Stanford, I'm just pointing out that the criticisms in this sub-thread are all hand-wavy.


Ah, but you are assuming Stanford's core business is, in fact, teaching.


You got me there buddy.


What is that argument exactly? It appears that a number of these new employees will be staffing the new high-end fitness center with pool, the child care center, cafes and a food pavilion, areas for collaborative working and conferencing, and maintaining the landscaping and open spaces.

Reflexively assuming that all "administrators" are unnecessary bloat isn't much different than the mindset of a corporate raider who wants massive layoffs for increased profitability. It can be a myopic and short-sighted vision of creating actual value.

Also, the School of Medicine, which is arguably the best research medical school in the world and a leader in genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, neuroscience and neurobiology is at ground zero for the genomics revolution and should be more focused on growth, not being pennywise and pound foolish.


Without a shred of citation that any non-trivial number of the 2700 are not unneeded though.


So, basically, the point is so handwavy that disputing the details is pointless?


Still, when it became clear a university cannot put a video online without having it transcribed in at least 2 different ways [1], I must say, my understanding of the regulation argument grew.

[1] http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/03/01/course-capture/


> Buckminster Fuller's models?

What now!?


Part of the Stanford library collection. Every time they are loaned out to an art show they go through conservation.


Yeah, cheers, (i looked it up) https://exhibits.stanford.edu/bucky


Today, a library fits on a hard drive.


That data didn't just magically migrate to a hard drive. Librarians are often leading and coordinating the digitization of archives

One of the biggest problems facing the biological sciences (and scientific research in general) is an exponential rise in the amount of data being generated, but an inability to catalogue and store the information, much less understand it. Modern librarians are inter-disciplinary problem solvers, often embedded in with faculty and researchers, responsible for indexing and archiving a rapidly increasing amount of information.

Plus, books books have thus far proven to be a more durable storage medium than all digital options in current usage. Without them, a solar flare or nuclear war could cause the modern equivalent of the burning of the Library of Alexandria


I think you clearly have not been to a research university library. There is a huge amount of old stuff that is not digitized and has important content that cannot be digitized.


Yes, but university libraries also do a whole lot more than just manage books. The library at the University I work for has computer labs, GIS labs, a makerspace, 3D printing, electronics fabrication, photography and video studios, plus a hundred other things. All of those take staff.


FWIW, that's not what most people mean by the term "library".


It is in the context of university libraries. Nowadays these sorts of services are common at bigger schools, and they are managed by the library.

Libraries at universities have always offered more than just buildings full of books. My point is that there is a lot more to managing a serious library than just cataloging books. Trained librarians especially do a lot to directly contribute to research by connecting researchers with the right sources of information.


This is exactly what is meant by the term library at a decent research university.


And paper has demonstrated great archival traits, where digital has no such thing.


It costs money to scan books. Even after you do so, you don't want to pulp all of them.

Hilariously, the LOCKSS project is also at the RWC location.


2700 vs 20000 total students and faculty doesn't seem that crazy. Could it be that they are moving admin so that there is more room on the main campus for academic purposes?


In Stanford's case, that's exactly what's going on.


Is this a US phenomenon/problem? I never hear of this problem with European schools as case studies.


As an adjunct professor running one class per year, I ran the calculation of:

(Amount I'm paid per class / (students in class * cost per credit * credits for class) )

And found I'm paid about 10% of what the students pay for the experience of taking my class. I can't help wonder what happens to the rest of that money.


Now that's a business model screaming for disruption.


When people talk about "disruption of education", they usually mean either online courses or boot camps. I think that's unfortunate. There are huge benefits to learning stuff the traditional way, by taking a class in person, on a schedule, with a curriculum and a teacher and an exam at the end. There are also huge benefits to hanging out with working scientists and picking up their enthusiasm. These are the important things about attending a university, and they aren't even that difficult or expensive to set up! Can we get that kind of "disruption", please?


The only benefit I see is the piece of paper I'm going to get from the university at the end of my wild ride.


Ironically, adjuncts are a disruption of a previous business model.



Honestly, as an adjunct professor, you don't make much. Full time faculty are, on average, probably paid at least 3 times what you make (based on numbers from 2013).

That probably doesn't make you feel great, but as a percentage of costs, faculty salaries are still the biggest expense at all schools I know of.

Staff for non-academic activities outside of the VP chain and coaches are also generally much lower than faculty salaries - Student life, activities, diversity, etc are closer to what you make.


Look at how much gets taken out of a grant for "overhead," too! Stunning.


For those that are unfamiliar, when a faculty member wins a grant the university takes 50%+ for themselves. Right off the top. So if you are awarded a grant for $100k from DARPA, NIH or some other granting organization you'll only end up having ~$47k to spend. The rest goes straight to the pocket of the university.


This is actually untrue. People just think that because they don't understand how the overhead % works. 100% overhead would mean the university taking 50%. But all overheads are <= 65%, so no university takes more than half. It's about 1/3 in the top tier universities.


Dang. That's cold.


The pointless admin is from services given to the students. Universities (that aren't household brand names like the Ivys) compete on services and facilities. And because most students are young and using other people's money (their parents or their future selves) they will choose schools not because they have the best deal educationally but, because they beautiful grounds, newer, swankier dorms and all of the social clubs and facilities for those like sports fields, etc.

It's a market problem with misaligned incentives and payment structures that has slowly grown worse over the past 40 years. No one actually says no because competition favors those that fatten themselves up with attractive but functionally useless things.

It's more like peacock feathers than malice or greed by administrators.


Yes. It's not unreasonable to cite this as an example of capitalism functioning normally. Competition produces extra money for institutions that are covering their core missions (one hopes) and also virtue signaling that they're super successful and wealthy.

You could call it greed, or simple self-interest: if the administrators have correctly perceived that the insanely wealthy will only make gifts to institutions plated in gold with peacock feathers, then their personal feelings about gold and peacock feathers are irrelevant: they can seduce the wealthy, or not, and they can win the gifts, or not.

Definitely worth study, and definitely an interesting study in perverse incentives. After a point, nothing is valued BUT gold and peacock feathers because they're so inextricably a part of doing business. And it's certainly not aimed at the students. It's aimed at the impossibly wealthy, who wish their gifts to be associated with institutions that are absurdly swanky for the students. What the students want doesn't have anything to do with it, it's purely for donors.


I have at least one good example...at my university there is an Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Sounds pointless on its face, but it's not. It helps students start businesses and obtain patents, for example.


Yup. College is conspicuous consumption in a lot of ways


People are happy to claim they want to downsize university administrations when the appeal is voiced like this, but another kind of editorial that pops up just as frequently in the opinion press later, they will be just as enthusiastically demanding more counseling for students in emotional quandaries, more university-mediated internship opportunities, more officials providing sexual assault prevention training, more recourse to resolve student-advisor disputes in a way that shifts the power balance towards the student, more varied dining options and a plethora of other goodies that can mostly only be realised with more and/or more powerful admin staff.


Obligatory:

> Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

> First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

> Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

> The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

https://www.jerrypournelle.com/ironlaw.htm


All I remember of Jerry Pournelle was his monthly piece in Byte Magazine, describing his adventures with a computer that never seemed to completely work.


Some of my favorite SF is stuff he wrote with Larry Niven: Footfall, Inferno, Lucifer's Hammer, The Mote in God's Eye (and The Gripping Hand)


Why do SF writers like putting their names on what's basically an office coffee mug joke?


I doubt Pournelle named it that himself. But it gets awkward to discuss something when somebody else has named it after you---I spent an hour as an undergraduate watching Shor simply call it "the factoring algorithm", trying to avoid the word "I".


Even Richard Hamming, who was famous for having said that greatness is having your name spelled in thelower-case, didn't name hamming distance; that was someone else at AT&T (Shannon, IIRC).


About five years ago, the president of my university proudly announced at a Senate meeting that they had appointed a new Director of Sustainability, to help ensure that the university's operations were sustainable.

I asked if, in light of the increasing administration headcount, they thought appointing a Director of Sustainability was financially sustainable.

They clearly didn't get the message; while that particular Director has moved on to other things, there is now an Office of Sustainability with about a dozen people.


In an administrative heavy organization every problem seems to be answered with "how can we add more administrative layers, processes, and backroom deals to satisfy x group (management, media, special interest groups, voters, etc) that something appears to be being done?" rather than asking "looking at all available options what is the best way to resolve this problem (inside and out of government)?". Basically a "When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail" type of thing.

This is the difference between group A (admins) and group B (engineers, teachers, etc) in Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy [1]. The former is often presented as a clever talented group of smart people who savvily work the system in TV shows like House of Cards but I question the utility it really offers the world when the ROI is so often questionable.

I'm curious how much of this modern dysfunction in modern governments (not just in the US) is due to the fact politicians are now almost entirely career politicians who spend their formative years in this insular world. The majority coming from the same private schools and 90% of them with law degrees. Rather than in the past, such as the founding fathers, who were businessmen, writers, and intellectuals first embedded in the real world who then went into public service.

The same analogy applies to Universities with administrators being raised within the system rather than the teaching staff intimately familiar with the front-line realities of the organization.

[1] https://www.jerrypournelle.com/ironlaw.htm


This is what happens to software development within large corporations. Developers are being managed by a bureaucracy that doesn't have a clue about software development.


Whether it's a university or a government or any other bureaucracy, the money eventually flows to the top. And the top tier of employees have no incentive to remove their own livelihoods.

Thinning the waste at the top is a great idea, but never gets done unless a bigger bureaucracy makes it happen.


MY favorite are the exorbitant salaries paid to sports faculty, even when the sports program is loses money.


The universities that have highly paid coaches are the ones with premier, highly successful programs and earn way more from ticket sales, broadcast revenues, and merchandise than the coach is paid. It's like any other business (and it most definitely is a business), you need to pay well to attract the best talent.


If this article (https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/the-ma...) is any guide, the money made by the athletic department mostly goes to the athletic department and not to funding anything else useful.


I would agree, but dispute the claim that athletic scholarships are not "useful." Most collegiate athletes do not progress to professional careers in their sport. Their education (at least in theory) prepares them to be contributors to society after they graduate.

Athletics is an "auxilliary enterprise" at most educational institutions. It's self-funding, thanks to alumni donations and a few high-revenue sports (basketball and football for most, maybe hockey in some areas) that fund scholarships in all the non-revenue sports like rowing, golf, track and field, etc.

People like to gripe when the football coach makes more than the university president, but the football program funds that, scholarships for the players, and much more.



Right, in RHode Island the highest paid state employee is the URI basketball coach. However, only like 3 percent or something is actually paid by the state.


No, most sports programs have highly paid coaches, and very few (4/250 or so) sports programs are even revenue-neutral. Most are in the red and are subsidized by fees charged to the students.


Kind of unrelated, but I am extremely disappointed in how much 'giving back to local communities' has been abandoned by modern universities, in favor of their massive administrative payrolls.

What used to be a core tenant of thought, is now a dollar figure. If you live in the state, you get a discount. End of story, obligations fulfilled, full stop.

But it's not a commitment or a central belief. No university will open its facilities to community members. No stage will be available for public performances, no instruments or machines will be made available for inquiring minds, no local organizations will spend more than a few hours on campus for a field trip.

Providing those things would cost money, sure enough. But they used to be part of a university's mission. Some of the older ones still enshrine the ideal in their mottos. That should mean something. It doesn't.


Do you have evidence of this? I'm just curious because I see all sorts of university events open to the public. Both in public and private universities. There's musical performances, special events (like physics students hosting solar eclipse day and providing hundreds of glasses to the public), theater performances, sporting events (for a low cost), donations to local charities and events, etc.


Just anecdotal evidence - I guess I see what you're describing as part of the student experience. Other people are allowed in, which is nice, but those things are done for the students' benefit.

I mean that no university I've dealt with in any capacity, (which, okay, is only about a half-dozen,) has shown even the slightest interest in educating their local communities. That 'commitment' begins and ends with a discount given to a handful of people.


How?

I've been hearing variations of "universities have too much administration" for at least a decade. I still haven't heard any solutions that aren't ridiculously expensive or already being implemented (and failing). Except, of course, for the solutions like "make it impossible for most of the people who currently attend college to go to college" which are approximately as politically viable as making French fries illegal and which furthermore do not really seem to have any mechanism to fix administrative costs other than "market voodoo".

One thing that tends to come up repeatedly when these discussions do reach a modicum of depth is the persistent gaming of the university rankings system. Universities game the ranking system by e.g. encouraging students to apply who are not likely to get in so that they will appear to be more exclusive. It would be nice to improve university rankings so they can't be so easily gamed, but will this actually make a significant difference? I'm not convinced yet that rankings actually have that large of an influence on university policy, in the first place.

The need for universities to police student behavior is another unfortunate situation. It's my understanding that federal cost-cutting is basically behind the moves on the government's part to implement policy by way of schools' enforcement of student misconduct. An honest politician should be able to fix this by allocating money for the government to do what it should have been doing in the first place, but increasing spending is very hard these days...


As one of the 'pointless' admin staff at a British Russell group university, the article seems to be overly hammering home the authors point which has to be partly to do with the book 'Bullshit Business' that he's trying to sell. I don't deny that there are issues in the university system here in the 'United' Kingdom, but I feel he's overhyping issues to get clicks and sell his book.

As several previous commenters have noted, we have a some what dysfunctional market, where most universities charge the same fees. For students you're still picking based on courses and reputation. You can't really pick a cheaper 'no-frills' university. This marketisation has leeched into the central university services, where we're turning everything into a product to sell. Not much of a market when academics have to use us. We are very cheap, it's not like we've got to make money. Obviously if you got rid of that, you'd be able to remove some staff. You'd still need quite a few to meet the legislative demands which are required of universities these days.

There are definitely some truths in the article. Not everyone needs to go to university. Certainly there are some students who are getting massive amounts of debt for very little gain. Universities do chase various league tables and other such measures (some imposed centrally) which does require lots of data gathering. Large amounts of data require staff to deal with that data. Students do really like shiny new buildings, so universities go on building sprees. Again a poor NSS (national student survey) can potentially reduce students and thus income. But to be fair, you'd want things to be nice when you're paying £9k per year for your fees alone.

REF and TEF aren't well liked by academics, so I'm quite sure a lot of them would be happy if they were dropped. It's unsurprising that the article is penned by an academic and one of his main suggestions is the dropping of REF.

The USS pension scheme deficit is probably misleading. If you want some detailed reading around that, then Mike Otsuka's articles are good - https://medium.com/@mikeotsuka


Is this true in the US, in general? My alma mater has a circa 9 billion dollar endowment... yet it still sends me sob story letters soliciting donations.


Mine too. They should be issuing us dividend checks, not asking for donations!


It seems increasingly likely to me that the whole academic model is on the verge of existential crisis, and headed towards profound transformations. I'm curious to see where this leads. Hopefully someplace better than before. (I shoul mention I'm a PhD student)


Probably the best deep dive I've read on the cost of higher ed was published a few years ago by Robert Hiltonsmith. This addresses US universities and colleges as opposed to UK, so the issues may not be one to one and the data is a little dated (published in 2015). Still, a worthwhile read.

http://www.demos.org/publication/pulling-higher-ed-ladder-my...


I worked at my university after graduation for 2 months (as an employee; well funded project). A project that should have had no more than 4 developers had 3x that many. Tool 2.5x as long to finish (I left in the middle). Crippling, dysfunctional politics, lunch meetings with stake holders, useless field trips. I think everyone involved knew what was going on and didn't care.


My University, Huddersfield, isn't broke and is debt free to boot.

> In addition to the Creative Arts Building which opened in 2008, a new £17 million Business School opened in 2010, followed by the £3 million Buckley Innovation Centre in 2012, the £22.5 million Student Central building in 2014, and the £27.5 million Oastler Building for Law and the School of Music, Humanities and Media, in 2017. £5.5 million invested in University Campus Barnsley.

> The University now attracts students from more than 130 countries. With an annual turnover of approximately £150m each year, it estimates it is worth £300m annually to the local economy.

And yet there is rabble rousing concerning the Vice Chancellor's £337,000 salary

http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/universit...


I have actually had an idea related to the sort of debt had to be taken by American university students for their academics.

Why not use a mixture of blended learning and Coursera, where students pay not just professors but also industry folk for cutting-edge knowledge but also open up a marketplace for Youtube tutorial people to do physical workshops in their cities that can be charged and move onto a sort of Airbnb for education and workshops? I feel a lot of straight-up learning can be gained and the 3% charged per workshop will go towards scholarships. For people who think you would be paying high prices per lecture/workshop in this model, a university student has already been paying about $50 or more per lecture.

Instead of basically physical/manual admin systems in individual centralized universities, you have decentralized software system managing schedules and booking workshops/lectures.

Just an opinion and thought I've been having, any feedback welcome.


You assume the primary purpose of college/university is to teach. No. In America anyway, it is mostly a credential. The prestige and exclusiveness of your uni serves as a marker of intelligence in a society in which it can be legally treacherous to give potential employees IQ tests.

I will agree that for a significant minority of students the learning and learning to teach oneself are important. I doubt the top universities do a better job of this. From that perspective I think the main advantage of the sorting is that it is easier to teach if your students fall into a narrow band of ability


It's difficult to design an education system without the following property, but nonetheless I find it an unfortunate one:

You do better at university when you already know the material, not when you use the university to learn the material. Your well-being (tied directly to gpa) depends on you not making mistakes during your coursework.

I don't know about you, but mistakes are how I learn.


very interesting point. For me the best way to learn was to do problem sets and be able to immediately check and fix my answers - to have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them in a low stakes environment.

I had a few classes where the professor provided both a list of recommended problems in the text, as well as an answer key. The grading was solely off of tests. Circumvents the cheating problem and tries to avoid punishing you for making mistakes while learning.


HackerNews is selection bias central. I suspect the overwhelming majority of college students don't even know the term "problem set" :) Most of it is, read this book of literature and write something showing you both read it and have absorbed the latest fads in college politics and art criticism.


I wonder about that point though, although professors also pursue the universities with more prestige, did they really spend the time to acquire the title of professor for prestige?

I think a decentralized system prioritizes the professor over the administration. In fact if universities aren't meant to be areas of teaching then why have them? My approach is more cutting out that middleman which is the university.

Moreover, prestige of unis are gradually fading away, although rare, I can sort of see a future where university credentials dont matter.

Excuse my bad grammar, I write very fast and in between my work so I dont really proofread.


I think they pursue the title of professor for 2 reasons: 1) For an intellectual there is no more awesome job/life than living among and working with other such people 2) Anything below full professor and you need to find another job in 7 years


Also, university is essentially 4 years of full-time studying you can do. Spending 4 years "unemployed" while taking online courses/building your own projects/whatever would very likely look odd to potential employers (compared to a more "traditional" path).


One of the most underrated aspects of getting a degree from one of the top universities is the prestige and network that comes alongside the education. Depending on your field of study, those "extras" can be more important than the education itself (i.e. in finance)

Perhaps the purely academic aspect of universities can be replicated using YouTube tutorials but unfortunately, a self-thought person won't have the same employment opportunities as someone who holds a degree in the same field from a top university.


Good Point and one a lot of people forget.

Technical people starting on their career path can overcome some of this by contributing to open source projects for example and the on-line networks they make.

I have had several job inquiries relating to open source work I contributed so it does work.


If our local makerspace can score a little funding in there somewhere for a glass workshop, I'm sure we would love to squeeze in a small bio/chem lab to go along with that and the electronics lab. We can make most of our own equipment, and our business license ought to enable us to buy chemicals from otherwise discriminating suppliers.

To put things in perspective financially, we appear to be sustaining ourselves on $40/mo memberships, with materials sold at cost for members. Projects for the outside world are expected to bring revenue in to the group, with a suggested minimum price of 2x material cost, unless they are for a charity or a primary/secondary school.


Coursera is maybe not a great example - they don't even vet their courses before starting to sell them, and they won't necessarily offer refunds if you want to drop a disappointing course partway through. It's full of courses with two weeks of 'intro' material which references the exciting things which will (not) be taught in future weeks, and it seems more like a diploma mill or collection of half-baked blog posts than any sort of real education. I've had overwhelmingly negative experiences with them.

EdX is a quality platform, though, and MOOCs in general could fill that role.


The Coursera/edX model is a university that is 100% administration -- they themselves employ no academics on a continuing basis at all.


True, what I'm proposing is not a full manual administration. I see software really as the thing that relieves people of a lot of manual supervision or administration by physical people. I also wrote an article before on the idea of Blended Learning and that I think its far more effective than physical or online learning, Coursera was just a similar comparison that I could use like "Uber for dog-walkers".


This article is purportedly about UK universities, but half of the evidence quoted is from studies of _US_ universities. So no matter how strong the evidence, it's irrelevant.

The second half of the article is prescriptive but short on details. What does it mean to require "people to fully carry out their own fanciful ideas"? Does it mean that someone who decides the trash should be collected every other day rather than every day, should actually collect the trash?

Like many people, I'm attracted by headlines which align with my own biases. But my level of bias here is unchanged after reading the article!


The problem in the UK is there is no significant competitive pressure. What would help is separating the teaching from grading, just as it is in schools.

Right now an employer has to consider a degree from Oxford Brookes in a completely different light to one from Oxford University. If they knew the students were graded in exactly the same way then it could really shake the system up.


I'm not a fan of that, it's adds huge drag to any change. Want to add a module on deep learning that you also want to test? Now it needs to be added by a country-wide exam board. Want to add something on cognitive neuroscience to the standard "AI" degree? Only if everyone can teach it.

Given how regularly things are messed up by the boards on simple GSCE level questions covering far fewer subjects, I'd not like to have that applied across everyone.


I'd be interested to know how much variation there really is, when visiting universities with my children the options looked remarkably similar.

There might be some drag on creating new courses but there could be huge savings as well.

One thing I'm sure is the academic community wouldn't like it, it would need to be forced on them.


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