Two short notes from our own world: That of academic contemplation.
The Unanticipated Consequences of Political Action?
For a number of years, Danish politicians have been complaining about students in higher education being too slow to begin and especially finish their studies. (It’s not a particularly Danish problem: The Germans know one or two things about that as well)
What can be done about it?
The solution proposed by the Danish government is to introduce a number of economic disincentives – or punishments, if you like – for those who enter higher education late.
In an interview with Danmarks Radio broadcast on April 7, the leader of the Student Office at Copenhagen University, Jakob Lange, suggested that the punitive measures eagerly envisaged by administrators and politicians could in fact turn out to be counterproductive and discourage people from taking a higher education alltogether.
And as Lange pointed out: Students face one important factor discouraging speedy studies: Danish employers – including the public sector – traditionally expect that candidates have a fair amount of job experience accumulated during their time at university. Old habits die hard.
The interview can be heard through this link. (Microsoft Media-format. The file may very well be buggy if you happen to use a Mac or a Linux-based computer)
My word of advice to students: Don’t listen to what the politicians say. Do what the employers do.
He Who Pays the Music Calls the Tune
This Sunday, Sveriges Radio made a stunning discovery: Universities are not centres for independent research any more.
If you suspect a touch of irony here – yes: No-one who has worked at a Swedish university during the past decade will be the least surprised.
The fundamental problem is that Swedish universities these days basically do not have any funds for research: Not for Ph.D.-students’ work, not for post-docs’ work and especially not for professors’ work.
The popular image of a professor may still be a slightly absent-minded character predominanty occupied with reading – and writing – strange books or performing odd chemical experiments.
Professors in the real world will have a hard time recognising themselves in those images. In fact, a professor these days spends most of his or her time chasing research funding so that his or her department may have the money to employ Ph.D.-students. It is perhaps not surprising when professors leave academia to become bureaucrats.
And as we all know – he who pays the music, calls the tune. Commercial interests often clash with scientific interests, political funding in real world depends on researchers accomodating political interests – the depressing tale about the research programmes concerning Danish security policy during the 1970s and 1980s may serve as a reminder of what happens when political goals set the research agenda – and as a consequence the ideal of independent research becomes more and more of an ironic description of actual academic work.
In the future, universities will become purely educational institutions whose task is to award as many degrees as possible as fast as possible while research – and competent researchers – will emigrate to foundations organised and financed outside of the public sector and the avalanche of regulations and control mechanisms that have hit universities during later years.
And yes: Most of these foundations and the top researchers will be in the U.S.