Monday, October 1, 2007

University Reform

A new study by Philippe Aghion Mathias Dewatripont Caroline Hoxby Andreu Mas-Colell André Sapir finds that European universities lag American universities in performance at the top level but that variance in performance is higher in the US and that many European universities are concentrated in the middle tier. They have specific policy recommendations to improve European performance:

  • Money helps performance. Specifically, there is a strong positive correlation between the university budget per student and its Shanghai research performance.
  • Autonomy is good for research performance. Among our different indicators of autonomy, the variable that ‘wins’ in our regressions is budget autonomy, that is, whether or not the university requires Government approval.
  • Autonomy and funding are complementary inputs to performance; budget autonomy doubles the effect of additional research funding on the Shanghai research performance.

Note that budgetary autonomy is the centerpiece of Sarkozy's university reform program. Whether additional funding will be forthcoming remains to be seen. It is nevertheless highly doubtful that the increase in funding will come anywhere near to compensating the current funding gap between the US and Europe (3.3% of GDP for universities in US compared to 1.3% percent in Europe).

On a related note, the Ecole des Mines has prepared a riposte to the famous Shanghai rankings of world universities. French institutions do much better in the EdM rating than in the Shanghai.


Alain Q. said...

This worldwide comparison of universities is difficult in the French case.

In other countries, universities gather the best minds, in terms of students and academic body.

Not so in France where universities accept all students without any selection, and specially those who have not been accepted in one the very competitive Grandes Ecoles. The term of "université parking" has often been used to describe these institutions.
The Grandes Ecoles have always enjoyed full autonomy and close relation with industry.
This is where the elite of French managers, politicians coming from, and very rarely from a university.
Sarkozy, a former lawyer, is an exception..

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Since one of the authors of the study is a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Ulm), I don't think that there's much danger that they missed the distinction between universities and Grandes Ecoles. The point is that the French Grandes Ecoles are included in the Shanghai study and do not rank high. The issue is not why unselective universities are parking lots; it's why highly selective ones aren't performing better in international comparisons.

In any case, the "parking lot" image of the typical French university is not entirely accurate. If you read my post the other day about university study and the job market, you will recall that university graduates do much better than non-graduates in finding jobs soon after entering the market. So if the criterion is marketability rather than research performance (as it was in the EdM study), the universities are performing their function (which may be filtration and signaling rather than education, but that's another discussion). Search the index under "universities" for previous comments about these issues. You'll find plenty of discussion of the Grande Ecole/university distinction.

Alain Q. said...


The parking lot image is not contradicted by the fact that graduates do better than non-graduates. It derives from the fact that 41% of the students entering the university fail to graduate ( source OCDE )The selection system refused for entry is applied in the 2 or 3 following years. What a waste of time and ressources !

And , as you know, the marketabilty rate is very different if you consider the professional studies accepting selection ( bac+2) and the general universities.