How robust are American universities?

This week’s Economist includes a Schumpeter column at http://www.economist.com/node/16941775 which raises interesting questions about the future of the most prestigious American universities, prompted by American think-tank reports from both sides of the political spectrum that cast doubts on the effectiveness of their existing model.

Many of the criticisms of established universities (lack of relevance, insufficient effort put into teaching) are familiar enough.  But the column is interesting for the parallel that it draws with the motor industry – once thought impregnable and closely entwined with the success of the USA as a nation – and for the observation that the major universities are doing well at present but that this may change over time.

In general, however, one interesting aspect of the higher education sector is that, despite considerable changes in the environment within which universities operate, and the technology available to them, the basic structure of the sector has remained remarkably static over the years, and most of the powerful and influential players have remained the same – in a significant number of cases for centuries.  Of course you may have noticed that, as an employee of an established university in London, I might have a vested interest in this continuing.

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