Top universities — preserves of bad economics

19 August, 2015 at 09:56 | Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

There are certainly some things that the top institutions offer which lower-ranked once simply can’t: great buildings and history for starters. To walk around Cambridge, to see its grand architecture, and to feel drenched in its history, is an amazing experience …

aaBut the quality of the education you get at University depends very much on the individual people you are taught by, and here University rankings are far from a perfect guide. Extremely gifted teachers and researchers can be at lower ranked Universities, for a multitude of reasons from personal preferences to sheer lock-in: a capable person can start in a lower-ranked institution, and find that the “Old Boys Network” locks them out of the higher ranked ones.

In my own field of economics, there is also a paradox at play: in many ways the top universities have become preserves of bad economics, both in content and in teaching quality, while the best education in economics often comes from the lower ranked Universities.

In fact, there’s a case to be made that the better the University is ranked, the worse the education in economics will be. And before you think I’m just flogging my own wares here, consider what the American Economics Association had to say about the way that economics education appeared to be headed in the USA back in 1991:

“The Commission’s fear is that graduate programs may be turning out a generation with too many idiots savants, skilled in technique but innocent of real economic issues.” (“Report of the Commission on Graduate Education in Economics”, American Economic Association 1991)

The graduates of 1991 have become the University lecturers of today, and thanks to them, the trend the report identified at the graduate level has trickled down to undergraduate education at the so-called leading Universities.

Steve Keen/Forbes

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