Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Closely based on a real conversation

Dr Clam is talking about the Australian higher education system with a visiting academic:
...most Universities in Australia don’t like to hire their own PhD graduates. The usual thing is to go overseas for a post-doc for a couple of years, then bounce around from short-term contract to short-term contract for up to a decade before getting a permanent job somewhere,if you are lucky.

Visiting Academic: (Aghast) That is terrible. In my country, the University where you do your PhD is legally obliged to offer you a job.

Dr Clam: Wow!

Visiting Academic: I suppose it is worth it, though? Academics are highly paid and respected members of society?

Dr Clam: Not really... we could all make a lot more money if we went into industry.

Visiting Academic: (Shakes head unbelievingly. Notices clock.) How late do you work here?

Dr Clam: The students generally finish by five... (Notice dubious look, continues hastily) But most of us would stay at work until at least six, you know academics! When does the working day finish in your country?

Visiting Academic: We stop work at two. (Shakes head sadly, looks at Dr Clam with pity.) Life is very easy in Iraq.


Jenny said...

Yup, we have an article on the wall here written by a british academic who came to work in Oz, then quit and went back home. It said "the conditions in Oz are disgusting, the pay is poor, the hours are long and the support for you to do research is just about non-existent"

Its the over a barrel 'they do it because they love it so we'll pay them peanuts and flog them till they are 1/2 dead' attitude

Dave said...

Visiting Academic: We stop work at two. (Shakes head sadly, looks at Dr Clam with pity.) Life is very easy in Iraq.

Bwaaaah-ha-ha-ha-hahahah -!

Oh, wait, you're not joking, are you? sigh just another thing that's depressingly off about this country is the anti-intellectualism, every bit as prevalent and unproductive as the racism...

Marco said...

Don't get me wrong; I believe in intellectuals as much as the next guy. But our modern civilization depends as much on factory workers having a clever idea as a scientist in a university. Innovation comes from everywhere. I, for instance am concentrating on the complex intricacies of small business finance in a niche industry. I don't think our publicly funded universities should encourage more smart people away from say the clothing industry. We've got a real brain drain down here :)

Dave said...

Er, yes, Marco, but it's rather obvious that the next guy thinks that most academics should be lined up against the wall and kicked in the crotch...

My feeling is that there are plenty of smart people everywhere, and they should not be discouraged from pursuing innovation in whatever field they choose (be it rocket science or loom design) by institutionalised prejudice.

Then again, I also think intellectual wastrels such as myself should probably be thrown out of uni at the first sign of apathetic slacking and forced to get a real job :)

Marco said...

That sounds like a good idea for a reality show. I'd audition to be one of the masochistic academics. I have become a little disillusioned with publicly funded universities in general. My observations at the moment is that publicly funded pre-school and special education is way better than the private sector. Primary school is more evenly matched, but I still favour public schools. "private" high schools including Catholic ones seem to do better than the "state" schools. In higher education I am subscribing to the theory that we'd be better off if they were all privately funded institutions. The pattern there is obvious. Later education needs to be more specialised and therefore be more directed by market forces. Early, compulsory, and "fall-back" education must be done by the state

Dr. Clam said...

'Later education needs to be more specialised and therefore be more directed by market forces'? I nominate Marco for non-sequitary of our society!

Later education needs to be more specialised and therefore be less directed by market forces, because [note the attempt to justify my assertion] the product (i.e., specialists) is necessary in numbers that are uneconomically small for most private organisations to produce. Even the whole nation is really too small for us to produce specialists economically.

I will address the rest of your comments in a silly way.

Early, compulsory, and fall-back education is basically unnecessary now that we have Google, and can be done by any nitwit with a bit of cash. The state must get out of the business and leave it to fly-by-night entrepreneurs.

As far as secondary education goes, it might be more difficult for me disagree with everything you've said, but I'll do my best... Private institutions including Catholic ones do better only because they can combine enthusiastic sucking at the public teat with selection of the students they want to teach. They should be nationalised. Conversely, the public ones should be privatised in line with my earlier suggestion about primary schools.

Marco said...

Its been bubbling up inside me for too long. Ever since that (failed?) argument against a higher education article by the economist, I've been modelling via brain thought what is actually happening in our education system, and my conclusion is not exactly persuasive, but I think the future will bear me out. Basics must be taught early in a society-conforming way. Market forces is the best way to allocate resources for the specialists which are the most required. Quid pro quo in my book :) Set these universities free!!!

Jenny said...

Where do you place pure research (ie with no planned immediate application) in this private sector plan? Australia is already abandoning what history tells us is an important source of scientific advancement, and this is in a public sector system.

Pure research will often eventually have application and important, vital, core application at that. But because some of it might not - and you can't tell except in hind-sight - it is given a very low priority.

Can the private sector see far enough ahead to fund pure research? Or is the cost:benefit analysis too difficult to calculate and as such seen as not enough bang for your buck?

Marco said...

Interestingly, I have thought about that a lot since I first put up the comment! My vision is that Tertiary pure research is done pretty well by the private sector (eg Bell labs, other large US private companies). I had some vision of primary age gifted (and high functioning autistic)children being involved in pure public research! I think as I get older it gets harder and harder to think outside the circle with pure research anyway.

winstoninabox said...

And what about research with little to zero chance of producing any kind of advancement for the world, such as anything related to an Arts degree?

Should we really be funding yet another paper about New Fabulism in A Midsummer Nights Dream. The same goes for research into Religon, Politics, and the economically unjustifiable madness of funding archeological research.

After all, apart from the odd dumbed-down-for-the-public bestseller about ancient peoples or whatnot, it's research will never have any lasting benefit to anyone.

Really, our unis should become production lines of youglings clutching MBAs in their grasping little claws.

Dr. Clam said...

I'm not sure I agree with you about those MBA's. winstoninabox, I was sort of following you until then, but... Hang on, the irony bot is beeping at me. Aha!

Hmm, I hope there are enough people in the world who believe rightly that knowledge is one of the ends, not the means, of civilization, to carry out research into those things. I think within Marco's paradigm the proper entities to fund those things would be privste funds set up by people who think research into those things is worthwhile- entities like the Guggenheim Museum and the National Geographic Society. I am not sure this would be a bad thing, except that you would get a lot of narrowly focussed research into politics by the Fabian Society and into religion by the Church of Danae, etc. I think it would probably be healthier for researchers to lobby 'the public' rather than 'the gummint' for funding- but still not very good. Ideally, I would like to see Universities as fully independent entities that can reject all outside funding for the poisoned chalice it is and live off the rents from properties bequeathed to them by generations of grateful alumni, but that is only likely to be a workable proposition for Oxford and Cambridge...

Jenny said...

Our university has decided to live off selling land and buildings...somehow they've missed the "Live off the interest, not the capital" lesson