Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More on the French Brain Drain

The story continues to attract attention in the US but, curiously, in France, not so much:

Ben Wildavsky, a senior scholar in research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and author of The Great Brain Race, appeared with Kohler at the French Embassy. In his book, Wildavsky argues that academic excellence is not a zero sum game and that it's a good thing that there is more competition for academic talent. Still, he said Tuesday that "without being alarmist," there is good reason for a country like France to worry about its loss of talent.

He argued -- to the visible discomfort of some of the French academics in the audience -- that the "culture of egalitarianism" and a "culture of mediocrity" have eroded the quality of French universities. (He later said he "withdrew" the word "mediocrity" and that he should have referred instead to a culture of "insufficient excellence.") Some of those who were challenging the report, he said, showed "elements of denial."

"Insufficient excellence?" C'mon, Ben, do you think anybody's gonna believe a weasel-word like that conveys your true thoughts on the matter? But I think you're being rather unfair, even with your waffle. French academics receive too little money and virtually no support of the sort that American academics take for granted: libraries, computers, secretaries, travel grants, research funding, etc. Mediocrity is a product of policy, not of  "culture." As for egalitarianism, you're neglecting the Grandes Écoles, which might lead you to the opposite conclusion about the French system. It would be more accurate to say that the stratification inherent in any system of higher education needs to be spread over a somewhat wider base than is presently the case in France.

1 comment:

Cartesian said...

But a good competition, like in sport (with rules), should not bring to inquisition (like with the Church); and I hope that it is thus.