HigherEd in the news

I cannot even try to join the discussion on higher education and #feesmustfall. It is moving too fast and there are some proper experts out there. I do want to share some links:

  • Johan and Co-Pierre  explained the opportunity cost of fees falling best in Business Day last year: Universities face an impossible trinity: appoint more black scholars, reduce student fees, or cut spending on outsourcing and maintenance of facilities. They argue that the bursary system should be reformed with targeted support of the students that need it.
  • In a Medium post Justin Goro argued for corporate support and a form of securitisation of future earnings.

I have wondered why no-one has mentioned the inequity of using more of the tax payer’s money to fund university students. Arguments for more public finding ignore the fact that higher education has some substantial private benefits (The Economist has U.S. data on the ‘value’ of university). Although there are poor students, they are not “the poor”.

We all know that education in South Africa faces many significant challenges (and if you want to learn more about it, follow Nic and read his blog), but it seems to me that giving spending more money on the 15 students that somehow had the resources to qualify to go to university, will only fuel further inequality. Where are the other 75 protesting?

Finally, you should read Shaun Stanley’s “Devil’s advocacy for decolonised  curricula” in the M&G Thought Leader. He argues that the way that the curricula is taught can disadvantage particular students. Food for thought.

academic publication, Economics

Academic publishing and the market place of ideas

I came across two interesting posts this morning that may be worth sharing.

In a BloombergView post Justin Fox writes about the profitability of academic publishing. It is a costly business and the internet and Open Access should have killed it a long time ago – but that is if it were about disseminating ideas. He argues what most of us already know: that publishing in academic journals is about trying to certify the quality of those ideas and awarding status. (I have written about my worries about publication earlier).

On a related tangent Federico Fubini writes about the closed market place for economic ideas in a Project Syndicate post. His analysis of RePEc rankings shows remarkable persistence of the positions of top-ranked economists. He has some choice bits:

… persistence at the top is striking across the board. Among the top ten economists in September 2015, six were already there in December 2006, and another two were ranked 11 and 13.

Mobility in the RePEc rankings remains subdued even after widening the sample. For example, of the top 100 economists in September 2015, only 14 were absent from the much wider top 5% in 2006, and only two others had advanced more than 200 spots over the previous decade. Among those recently ranked from 101 to 200, just 24 were not in the top 5% in 2006, and only ten others had moved up by more than 200 places. The rate of renewal among the 200 most influential economists was as low as 25% – and just 16% among the top 100 – during a decade in which the explanatory power of prevailing economic theory had been found severely wanting.

He goes on to show that in 2015 only 11 of the top-200 economists were from emerging countries (10 of that 11 worked in the U.S. or U.K. since their student days), there were only 4 women and no black person. He goes on to ask whether this is a closed inefficient market with high entry barriers?

I think that the two posts point to a number of different issues. Since it is the start of a new year and all of us have resolved to get that paper in, it mostly reminds us that it is tough to “make it”.
You will need to have good work to get into those good journals: Throw in the mathematics, search for those large and novel data sets, learn the latest techniques, crunch the numbers, see if you can identify those causal relationships. It will take time, effort, lots of revisions and incremental improvements before you submit.

But to break through those barriers to entry you also need to work at overcoming the disadvantages of distance, our developing country context and a dearth of old friends at Harvard or the LSE. You should be heard speaking about your good work at the right seminars and conferences. Don’t go to nice places for conferences, go to where the journals’ editors and reviewers are. Get your work out on RePEc, blog and tweet about it. Build a network with the right people. Locally and internationally.


Resolutions and advice

The academic year typically starts with resolutions. Many of my colleagues say that they do not make resolutions, but everyone takes stock and makes plans and for that purpose Co-Pierre (you should read his blog too) shared a good piece with career advice from The Chronicle.

It says a lot of things that we all know, but that we need to keep reminding ourselves to do:

  • Put your family first.
  • Make your health a close second.
  • Save some money.
  • If you are in the wrong  place, get out.
  • Stay away from jerks.
  • If you are not having fun, something is wrong.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Don’t tie up too much of your self-esteem in someone else’s evaluation of your work.
  • Take stock periodically.
  • Have a hobby. See the world. Or both.
  • Help others.

There are lots of good bits, but I take this part to heart:

… most of us go into academe because of intellectual passion for a subject or for teaching. It’s a place where we can enjoy our work and make a decent living doing it. If you’re not having fun, then ask yourself: Why not? What can you do to make the job more enjoyable? Do you need a new course to teach, a new area of research, a new type of student, a new avenue of community outreach?

I think that one of the best parts of an academic job is the freedom to make your resolutions and plans, but you have to remember to make it fun.


Sweet ’16

Originally from Chris Blattman’s blog

Retooling, rebooting, relaunching in 2016…

I have been writing things on the internet for a while and this is the latest version of my online efforts. It started in 2002 with ekon-oom.com with links to class notes and research resources long before it became fashionable in South Africa. By 2007 maintaining a web page had become too much work and I spent a few years doing other things. By 2011 blogs were everywhere and I jumped back in with a Blogger site until 2014. In 2015 I put it in hibernation to focus on the School of Economics’ blog and another one with Economic resources aimed at high school students. Even with those two platforms I realised that I still need a personal blog to share ideas and resources.

So now I am back, with everything consolidated in WordPress. I have pulled in some of the old posts from the Blogger site and hope they have stood the test of time. For 2016 I have some firm plans to blog and tweet about Economics teaching and research in South Africa!