Eggs in one basket in the university sector

I wrote an earlier post about the idea of a country putting all its research funding (and perhaps other resources too) into a few top places. I think this is a very interesting topic for debate.

Recently there was another article on the matter in The Guardian. The former president of DCU posted about it.

One of the arguments in favour of funding only the top universities is that “the money is going there anyway.” The Guardian cites that 75% is going to the top 30 institutions, and things like that. Therefore it is seemingly correct to say that most of the funding goes to the top universities. This is probably because most of the top researchers are at the top universities. But the word “most” is the key point to me. The point is that there are some excellent researchers at universities that are not ranked highly. Those researchers account for the other 25% of the funding. If you take away that 25% from them, you are saying to them that they either need to move to a top ranked university, or stop getting funded. Presumably this will result in the movement of those people to the top ranked universities. This cements the two-tier world, cements the position of the top ranked universities, and makes it impossible for other universities to move up there. In the long term we will get a polarized situation where only the top ranked places do funded research. We will move from a 75-25 split to a 100-0 split.

Next question: is that good or bad? It depends on your point of view, and what you are trying to achieve.

Next consider a similar scenario where a country puts all its funding into a few selected areas/subjects, instead of a few selected universities. The same story plays out. Excellent researchers in the non-chosen areas do not get funded. They have a choice, either move research area, move country, or stop getting funded.

Next question: is that good or bad? It depends on your point of view, and what you are trying to achieve.

There is also an indirect way of putting all eggs in one basket – which could be happening right now in the UK. It is interesting to observe what is happening there – there was an article in the Guardian the other day about it. The upshot of raising the limit on fees to 9,000 pounds is that the top universities are thriving, and weaker ones are possibly struggling. Applications have dropped, so the weaker universities have to admit students with bad grades. Furthermore, they have to pass these students all the way through, because they need the money. Talk about buying a degree. It will take some years to see how this plays out.

They say all things are cyclical. I think this will probably happen here – we will put all our eggs in one basket for a while, then diversify, then go back, then diversify again, etc. As new people come into power, they need to make changes. Nobody gets noticed and rewarded for saying it ain’t broke, so I’m not going to fix it.


1 thought on “Eggs in one basket in the university sector

  1. Pingback: Big Science | The World According to Gar

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