Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars

By Amanda H. Goodall | Go to book overview

so tenaciously to increase its number of top scientists, why, one might wonder, is the deterioration of European Nobels not receiving top billing as an issue among EU governments?

The drop in Nobel Prizes going to scholars in European universities is, arguably, a cause for concern. This is not the place to address exactly how this state of affairs came about, but it is appropriate for the aims of this book to touch upon a few issues. One British scholar, Bruce Charlton, who has been following the UK's slide in laureates believes the problem stems, largely, from a lack competitive drive.3

Henry Rosovsky, the former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, believes that the decline of European universities happened largely because they became too democratic. Using the Netherlands and Germany as examples, he focuses on the early 1970s political activism that led to parity of power between students, administrators, academics, and government.4 Rosovsky is of the view that they lost their mission at the point power was devolved. This situation has since improved, especially in the Netherlands. It is also possible that across the continent of Europe the concept of “excellence” was, and still is, misinterpreted as “elitism.” Excellence is achievable if institutions strive to be meritocratic— challenging though that can be. Yet, in contrast, some European countries operate a system that is fairly nepotistic.5 In France, hiring practices are less competitive, in that it can be difficult to recruit academics from outside that country.

A number of scholars point to the lack of funding that European universities receive compared with their U.S. competitors. Also, too much regulation, too little financial autonomy, and perverse incentives are believed to have contributed to Europe's abating sector.6

A defining feature of the United States is that it has a mixed economy of higher education; private and public systems coexist. The best universities in the world are the U.S. private institutions, although there are some important public exceptions, for example, the universities of California and Michigan, among others. A number of countries, including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Japan, have both public and private universities. There are some private institutions in Europe (for example, Buckingham University in the United Kingdom, Nyenrode in the

3 See Charlton (2007b). On the decline of economics in the United Kingdom see Machin and
Oswald (2000).

4 Rosovsky (1991). A very interesting account of this period in Germany is given by G. N. Knauer,
a distinguished professor of classics, in a letter he wrote to the mayor of Berlin and the Board of
Curators at Berlin's Free University in 1974, explaining why he was resigning his position there and
moving to the University of Pennsylvania (Knauer [1974]).

5 A culture of favoring inside promotions has been shown to be prevalent in the Italian system of
higher education (see Perotti [2002]).

6 SeeAlesinaandSpolaore (2003), Jacobs and van der Ploeg (2006), Aghion et al. (2007), Veugelers
and van der Ploeg (2008). For an account of the shift in scientific leadership from Europe to the
United States, see Weinberg (2008b) and Waldinger (2008). For an account of trends in science in
the developing world, see Weinberg (2008a).

-160-

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