Sunday, February 1, 2009

In less than an hour, I'll be on Sue Vogan's radio show discussing the plight of a friend and fellow Litmocracy member Karim. As part of his job at the University of Peshawar in Pakistan, he was perusing some research by other students in the library. One thesis concluded that oxygen levels in a local river were so low that no fish could be living there, but there were fish. He decided to investigate the equipment used for some field measurements of dissolved oxygen because he didn't know the University had such field equipment. In fact, it didn't. This means the measurements were not taken in the field and explained the discrepancy.

He brought this to the attention of his superiors, such as Dr. Asif Khan, who promptly suspended Karim from his job for inefficiency and misconduct. Apparently, when you find an error in research published by your employer, you are supposed to ignore it. And you're wasting your time if you try instead to get it corrected. Karim also discovered that the student who wrote the paper was a student of the current acting director, Dr. Tahir Shah. These are people that received degrees from U.S. and U.K. universities. So what gives?

It seems to me that the incentive for the US universities is to have the story that they provide educated citizens to developing nations. Governments fund education so that they have a story - that they're helping educate leaders. If they turn out to be poor leaders, lucky for them, the people of the world aren't paying enough attention to blame the universities. More people need to understand the chain of incentives behind publicly funded endeavors such as higher eduation. Instead, citizens in both America and in Pakistan are paying taxes to support scholarships to make up for the poor leadership.

So I have a job for the universities: It's like the Olympics. Here you have several very good athletes competing for top honors. Originally, these honors were awarded to the fastest runners, the highest jumpers, and those who could throw the farthest. These are measurements based on science, not judgments that are open to the abuses of personal bias. The scientific measure of educational success is the success of the private companies that employ the graduates. Our educational and research organizations need to actively promote and publicize their relative value to the industries that hire their graduates or use their research findings. This completes the chain of incentives, and highlights who should be the true beneficiaries of higher education. Most private companies that hire graduates retrain them to fill in the holes left by their university education. The School of Hard Knocks is the most efficient school there is.

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