Interesting discussion on the "crisis in higher education"


by StatGuy2000
Tags: discussion, interesting
Locrian
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#55
May11-12, 01:20 PM
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Quote Quote by carlgrace View Post
I think the US is quite similar to Canada in that sense. The media claim there is a shortage of the skilled trades. I can tell you there in my personal experience there are shortages of various extremely narrow subfields (e.g. specific language or tool skills in software, or extremely specific design experience). However, I think that is mainly due to the lack of interest in industry to do any kind of substantive training. I can tell you when i was in industry the job descriptions were so detailed that it was clear the company was only interested in people who could hit the ground running. There is a significantly lowering of interest in entry-level people. I think that is partially a symptom of sending "routine" work overseas. It is a severely short-sighted strategic error, in my opinion. But it is what it is.

You ask for my humble opinion and I'll give it to you. Claims of "shortages" of engineers and technical/scientific professionals are mostly BS. They usually come from industry groups trying to increase the number of visas to allow more foreign workers in. If there were truly shortages, salaries would increase to entice more people to enter the field. They aren't. So I call shenanigans.

I'm even dubious about the skilled trade shortages. Are salaries rapidly rising for plumbers and pipefitters? Maybe in oil fields, I don't know. But if salaries aren't rising, there isn't a real shortage. The idea of shortages is probably coming from companies looking for tax breaks (or should I say "incentives"). I could be wrong here.
Completely agree with pretty much every sentence in this post.

When people tell me X industry is complaining there aren't enough available workers, I ask them the following question: "How low does the woker's salary have to go before a company claims there are plenty of workers and no need to increase the supply?"

Companies will stop claiming there's a shortage of workers about the same time workers claim there are plenty of jobs openings.
twofish-quant
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#56
May11-12, 04:42 PM
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Quote Quote by Pyrrhus View Post
I disagree. People leave by choice or leave because there is no choice. Most are leaving because there is no choice. It is better to get them to leave by choice.
Lot's of people are leaving by choice. (Hint: I'm not in the United States.)

Also, if they aren't leaving by choice, what's the problem? It's not unreasonable to argue that that the primary concern of the US government is the employment of US citizens, and if there aren't enough jobs for US citizens, then non-US citizens should leave the US and let their countries handle their employment issues.

I don't think that too many Chinese and Indian Ph.D.'s would object to this policy, because the Chinese and Indian governments *are* rolling out red carpets for Ph.D.'s. Now it may be that this hurts the US in the long run, but that's an issue the US has to work out.

American universities should establish research centers abroad in collaboration with local universities. Help spread the reputation of good research (through good research and branding), and inject enthusiasm that You are going to be a research at MIT (but in X country).
1) I don't see the point of this. Chinese universities and companies are getting the cream of the crop by flashing some attractive offers to Ph.D.'s.

2) The "US brand" has been seriously tarnished.

3) US universities are under severe financial stress. No funds for overseas ventures.

4) Why should the Chinese or Indian governments *allow* US universities to set up local campuses? In the case of China, you'll quickly run into Google-type problems. The Chinese government is going to insist that any US university operating in China comform to Chinese educational policy. Either they do or they don't. Either way, it's going to cause issues.

5) Honestly, because of 4) I think it's going to turn to crap. What's likely to happen is that the foreign research centers end up being either cheap outsourcing centers or just mechanisms to squeeze money out of foreign students.

6) One reason that ambitious Chinese students want to go to Chinese universities is that this is where the Communist Party recruits new talent. In China, there is a glass ceiling and if you want to make it past a certain point, you have just got to be a Party member. If US universities operate in China either they allow the CCP to recruit, or they don't. Either way there are problems.

Good question. I am hoping for a good research network of centers globally. It will be great to do quality research abroad.
In China, the elite universities (Beida, Qinghua, Keda) are as good at research as the top US universities. I believe the same is true for India, but I'll let someone there talk about it.

The problem with the Chinese educational system isn't the elite universities. The strength of the US is that it has a "deep bench." You have excellent public state universities. Also, the *worst* accreditted universities in the US are still decent, whereas the worst universities in China are outright scams.
twofish-quant
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#57
May11-12, 05:10 PM
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Quote Quote by carlgrace View Post
But what do you propose to do about it? Obviously supply is more than meeting demand.
Boost demand. Paul Krugman suggested that we invent a hoax about an alien invasion so that people are willing to spend a ton of money fighting the alien threat. It's not that crazy of an idea. The thing that ended the Great Depression was World War II, and I've been thinking a lot about how to get the "good parts" of WWII without having tens of millions of people die.

What I'd like to see is some "friendly competition" in planting flags in the solar system. China decides to plant a flag on the Moon. They do or they don't. If they do, then the next step is Mars. Once someone wins that game, next stop Jupiter.

The schools are getting less and less publicly subsidized so they aren't in a position to step in. What to do? I think the only thing to do is nothing.
And doing nothing is going to lead to social revolution. Or at least I hope it's going to lead to social revolution. One thing that I worry about is that people will just "get used" to the current situation and think that it's "normal."

I grew up listening to Star Trek and getting brainwashed with Gene Roddenberry's view of the universe. I came of age when the Soviet Union fell, and everyone thought that history had ended, and that we were heading toward utopia. I've been brainwashed into believing in the "American dream" and as America as the "last best hope of the world."

If you are telling me that this is the "best that can be done". Well, I just can't accept that. I still believe in the American dream. Now whether or not the road to the American dream lies in the United States. I hope it does.

Why should US Citizens go into science? It makes no sense.
Because ultimately science and technology leads to economic growth. If we have a social and economic system that discourages people from science, they ultimately this leads to low growth, and then you end up with a death spiral as low growth -> less funding -> lower growth.

If there really were a need for more scientists and engineers (particularly in academia), salaries would rise.
You are assuming that the market leads to the best allocation of resources. That assumption is questionable.

I hope the pendulum starts swinging the other way at some point soon, before something really breaks. My point is that this isn't about academia, this is about our economic system. Good luck untangling *that* rat's nest.
One thing that attracted me to physics is trying to solve hard problems. I'm arrogant enough to think that I can understand something about the creation of the universe. If I'm *that* arrogant, then figuring out the economic system is something that I'm not going to shy away from because it's "too hard."
twofish-quant
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#58
May11-12, 05:18 PM
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Quote Quote by StatGuy2000 View Post
That being said, if you look at history, recessions (or depressions) that is due to property busts tend to take years to recover fully (the Great Depression lasted a full decade, and this is only the 4th year from the time of the collapse of 2008).
That's without government intervention. In China (and India) the government poured massive amounts of money into the economy, and the economic crisis is a distant memory. It's been argued that the cure is worse than the disease, but we'll see about that.
carlgrace
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#59
May11-12, 05:27 PM
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I don't necessarily disagree with what you're saying, twofish-quant. My point is that this is not something that can be addressed with a tweak. It needs to be addressed with a fundamental change in our economic system.

Maybe that's possible. But these days being moderate gets someone tarred as a Marxist-Socialist-Fascist and being a traditional republican in the vein of Eisenhower or even Nixon gets you label a RINO and drummed out of office.

I think some interesting times are in store (and I mean that as in the famous curse).

I don't know the answer. I wish I did.
twofish-quant
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May11-12, 05:41 PM
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Quote Quote by carlgrace View Post
Wages are skyrocketing overseas while they are mostly flat here (unless you're in upper management). So, is getting less attractive.
There's another factor. In the US, being a scientist or engineer isn't particularly highly respected, but in China it is, so for most Chinese Ph.D.'s, you are going to end up with a higher standard of living in China than in the United States.

One problem with the US is that if you live outside of the US, you can't ignore the US. The US is overwhelmingly powerful, and you have just *feel* how powerful the United States is when you are outside. Conversely, people that live in the US are sometimes quite shockingly unaware of how things are in the rest of the world.

And then China is big (and so is India) so you have a large numbers effect. Probably only the top 10% of the people in China live at the standard of living as people in the US, but that's 100 million people, we are either close or have reached the point where the number of people in China and India that have standards of living similar to America is larger than the number of people in the US.

I'm more worried about the long haul. China got out of the economic crisis partly by building 10,000 km of high speed rail, and now that rail is in place, you can see the economic impact. There are massive government incentives in things like solar cells and biotech.
Pyrrhus
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May11-12, 05:42 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
What do they pay you with? Building more institutions anywhere (especially ones that don't produce more scientists) would certainly help the problem- but where do you get the money?

I know several people who have taken professorships in China and India rather than get on the postdoc treadmill. They generally are working on a much smaller budget in their labs than any lab here- the grants are just much smaller. Its not obvious to me that doubling the number of research institutions does anything- the money remains fixed, so each institution does less.
This is changing... but it will change faster if Universities with high reputations put their neck on the line with foreign governments to establish research centers abroad.
Pyrrhus
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May11-12, 05:46 PM
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twofishquant,

That is China, a closed country. India is another closed country. I know in Chile, Singapore, Brazil... The research center abroad is working. You get to work with professors at the top of their field while you are abroad doing research that is relevant to the country where the center is, and also will bring high reputation to the local universities. The idea is not to establish CAMPUSES abroad, but to partner with local universities to found research centers funded by local government funding. This is different. The idea is to employ PhDs to do research, not to open campuses to teach undergraduates.
Pyrrhus
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May11-12, 05:50 PM
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Quote Quote by ParticleGrl View Post
What do they pay you with? Building more institutions anywhere (especially ones that don't produce more scientists) would certainly help the problem- but where do you get the money?

I know several people who have taken professorships in China and India rather than get on the postdoc treadmill. They generally are working on a much smaller budget in their labs than any lab here- the grants are just much smaller. Its not obvious to me that doubling the number of research institutions does anything- the money remains fixed, so each institution does less.
Where do you get the money? from the local governments! Do you think only the USA cares about research? Don't you know that Brazil, Argentina, and others have local defense agencies, space agencies, and others that do fund research in those areas.
carlgrace
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#64
May11-12, 05:52 PM
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Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
I'm more worried about the long haul. China got out of the economic crisis partly by building 10,000 km of high speed rail, and now that rail is in place, you can see the economic impact. There are massive government incentives in things like solar cells and biotech.
Why are you worried? I'm honestly curious. Standard of living is not a zero-sum game. Sure, the American standard of living will suffer relative to the rest of the world (because we were the only game in town in the late 1940s and 1950s.

I'm not convinced that this has to be a game to be "won". Right now a lot of people are taking advantage of cheap overseas labor, but the countries are developing quickly.

You're quite right that America has chosen against investing in infrastructure. Shame on us.
carlgrace
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May11-12, 05:58 PM
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Quote Quote by Pyrrhus View Post
Where do you get the money? from the local governments! Do you think only the USA cares about research? Don't you know that Brazil, Argentina, and others have local defense agencies, space agencies, and others that do fund research in those areas.
You do realize, of course, that the problems with not enough spots for PhD graduates is much more acute in South America. I worked for a company that opened a design center in Argentina because there were so many well educated graduates (PhD and MS) who had nowhere to go.

There's a reason why there are far more foreign PhD holders working in the US (and I mean they earned their PhDs from foreign universities) than there are American PhDs working overseas.

I wish an American PhD good luck getting a job with a Brazilian defence agency when there are so many talented Brazilian PhDs wiling to work hard for low wages.
twofish-quant
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May11-12, 06:01 PM
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Quote Quote by daveyrocket View Post
I think currency devaluation would end up being a good thing, because if the dollar becomes weak compared to other currencies then it will no longer be cheaper to ship jobs overseas.
But then it becomes more attractive for high mobility workers to move overseas. Over the last few years, the US dollar has depreciated a lot with respect to the Chinese RMB. This means that RMB wages have increased, and it becomes easier for Chinese companies to outbid US companies when it comes to getting skilled engineers.

Also, if you weaken the dollar, then it becomes a lot less attractive to invest in the US than in say China. It also becomes a lot cheaper for foreign companies to buy US companies, which leads to a lot of issues.

That will bring low-skill manufacturing, etc. type jobs back into the country so that we can actually put more people to work creating value.
Don't think so. The USD:CNY has gone from 8:1 to 6:1 over the last two years. That's caused low-skill jobs to leave China, but they've ended up in Vietnam and Indonesia rather than back to the United States.
Pyrrhus
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May11-12, 06:06 PM
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Quote Quote by carlgrace View Post
You do realize, of course, that the problems with not enough spots for PhD graduates is much more acute in South America. I worked for a company that opened a design center in Argentina because there were so many well educated graduates (PhD and MS) who had nowhere to go.

There's a reason why there are far more foreign PhD holders working in the US (and I mean they earned their PhDs from foreign universities) than there are American PhDs working overseas.

I wish an American PhD good luck getting a job with a Brazilian defence agency when there are so many talented Brazilian PhDs wiling to work hard for low wages.
http://www.economist.com/node/17851421

http://www.schwartzman.org.br/simon/acsalaries.pdf

I was offered USD 60K to become a postdoc in one of the research centers I am talking about sponsored by MIT and local universities in Chile. How is USD 60k for a postdoc with health benefits a low wage?

Granted, I am only talking about STEM. These countries do not care about humanities.
carlgrace
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#68
May11-12, 06:15 PM
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Dude, did you even read this article? There is one sentence about how Brazil wants to become an international science destination. Then it says, and I quote:

Though its own bright graduates still head to Europe or the United States for PhDs or post-doctoral fellowships, nowadays that is more because science is an international affair than because they cannot study at home. The country wants more of them to return afterwards, and for the traffic to become two-way.

Brazil is no longer a scientific also-ran. It produces half a million graduates and 10,000 PhDs a year, ten times more than two decades ago.


So, according to this article, most of Brazil's graduates leave for Europe or the US. And it graduates 10X what it did 2 decades ago. This is exactly the issue we're talking about happening here in the US.

Please explain to me the evidence in that article that indicates that most new positions will be won't be primarily staffed by local candidates and it will amount to anything more than a drop in the bucket.

You're seriously basing your argument on the statement that FAPESP advertised fellowships at a few universities? Whatever you're smoking, it must be pretty good.
carlgrace
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#69
May11-12, 06:16 PM
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Quote Quote by Pyrrhus View Post
http://www.economist.com/node/17851421

http://www.schwartzman.org.br/simon/acsalaries.pdf

I was offered USD 60K to become a postdoc in one of the research centers I am talking about sponsored by MIT and local universities in Chile. How is USD 60k for a postdoc with health benefits a low wage?

Granted, I am only talking about STEM. These countries do not care about humanities.
Ahh... I see. Argument by anecdote.

So let me try, shall we? I have a tenure-track STEM research position. So that means there isn't any problem in science, right?
twofish-quant
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#70
May11-12, 06:17 PM
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Quote Quote by Pyrrhus View Post
That is China, a closed country. India is another closed country. I know in Chile, Singapore, Brazil... The research center abroad is working.
What works in Chile, Singapore, and Brazil may not work in China and vice versa. I know a lot about China. I know nothing about how things work in Chile.

Also, China and India are hardly "closed countries." We aren't talking North Korea here.

You get to work with professors at the top of their field while you are abroad doing research that is relevant to the country where the center is, and also will bring high reputation to the local universities.
The thing about China is that you already have a set of universities with excellent reputations.

The idea is not to establish CAMPUSES abroad, but to partner with local universities to found research centers funded by local government funding. This is different. The idea is to employ PhDs to do research, not to open campuses to teach undergraduates.
If it works in Brazil, that's great. I don't see how this is possibly going to work in China.

Western-Chinese university partnerships are extremely difficult because of "Google issues." There are also national security issues. Suppose a US university founds a research center to develop better battery technology and that makes it's way into better submarines for the People's Liberation Army. Uh-oh.

In the case of China, there is the "so what are we getting out of this" issues. If you have a pot of money, you don't want to give it to a foreign university to start a research center. You go up to the professors that work in those universities, show them the pot of money, play some patriotic music, and convince them to jump ship.

Also priorities are different. The US has a huge problem with employment of Ph.d.'s. This simply is not a problem in China in 2012. The Chinese educational system does have lots of problems, but there are different problems.

The other thing is that things change over time. Until 2000, it was *insane* for a Chinese Ph.d. to voluntarily want to go back home. After the dot-com crisis, people started moving back, and after 2007, pretty much everyone who can go back home is going back home. The Chinese government is just flooding research institutes with cash. The reason is that the Chinese government is worried about the "middle income trap" and are thinking about the long term survivability of the Communist Party so they are putting a ton of money into science now, so that they'll have "bread and circuses" in 2025.

This also results in a lot of cultural changes. In the late-1980's and early-1990's, the colleges were hotbeds of anti-government activity. Today, Chinese college students are as a whole probably one of the most pro-government groups out there, because working in the system leads to more upward mobility than trying to overthrow it.
Pyrrhus
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May11-12, 06:17 PM
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Quote Quote by carlgrace View Post
Dude, did you even read this article? There is one sentence about how Brazil wants to become an international science destination. Then it says, and I quote:

Though its own bright graduates still head to Europe or the United States for PhDs or post-doctoral fellowships, nowadays that is more because science is an international affair than because they cannot study at home. The country wants more of them to return afterwards, and for the traffic to become two-way.

Brazil is no longer a scientific also-ran. It produces half a million graduates and 10,000 PhDs a year, ten times more than two decades ago.


So, according to this article, most of Brazil's graduates leave for Europe or the US. And it graduates 10X what it did 2 decades ago. This is exactly the issue we're talking about happening here in the US.

Please explain to me the evidence in that article that indicates that most new positions will be won't be primarily staffed by local candidates and it will amount to anything more than a drop in the bucket.

You're seriously basing your argument on the statement that FAPESP advertised fellowships at a few universities? Whatever you're smoking, it must be pretty good.
Read the next article, and obviously Brazil WANTS to, it has not achieved it yet, but is INVESTING to become so. How is this a problem against my argument? Isn't investing more in Research & Development the point of this discussion? While USA and other countries cut funding?
Pyrrhus
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May11-12, 06:19 PM
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Quote Quote by carlgrace View Post
Ahh... I see. Argument by anecdote.

So let me try, shall we? I have a tenure-track STEM research position. So that means there isn't any problem in science, right?
How is your argument by anecdote superior to my argument by anecdote?


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