What added value do universities provide?

One of the central memes of Rich DeMillo’s book ‘Abelard to Apple‘ is about what value Universities bring to their students. If the students pay, what are they paying for? The question is the same if the state pays. All too often it looks to me as though universities add very little  value to their students (apart from a straight cash transfer for a paper certificate that opens up certain job prospects). One of the confounders is of course that universities select students, and any assessment of what universities produce has to be adjusted for the the quality of the students on entry — what would these individuals have learned without going to university?

A nice quote from the Economist on a piece on business school education puts this well:

And just being clever enough to be accepted on to an MBA from a top institution is a useful signalling device for recruiters. At a recent Harvard colloquium, a bigwig from one of the large consultancies told his audience of star professors that the only person he valued at the school was the admissions officer. A former student who was there reports that none of them batted an eyelid.

So, are students paying for added value, or merely the certification that reflects the ability to measure a student’s ability before they go to business school?

Post by Jonathan Rees

Clinical academic and skin watcher at the University of Edinburgh

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