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Comment: university professors must teach more, have experience in the industry

SINGAPORE: The growing tensions between research and teaching in universities, particularly in the United States, provide lessons for Singapore.

One reason for the increase in tensions is the increasing complexity of the real world. We no longer live in a world in which mechanical engineers design automobiles and electrical engineers design computers; We live in a world of digital systems in which everything is connecting.

Thousands of suppliers often collaborate informally on the design and manufacture of these systems, often on different continents and often in markets with different needs and regulations.

Whether we talk about the Internet of things, cloud computing, machine learning or artificial intelligence, the design of everything now requires extensive technical and business knowledge that goes far beyond existing academic disciplines and narrow silos of academics. journals


Technology is also changing the definition of jobs, requiring universities to adjust their curricula and even limits between different disciplines.

The Internet of things, cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence are changing the work of doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, journalists, engineers and scientists, of low-level work to the high level, even as the curricula focus on low level knowledge, such as mathematics.

Changing curricula and boundaries between disciplines requires professors who understand the real world more than the academic world of esoteric knowledge.

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 Conference room NUS

Stock of NUS students attending a conference.


A second factor that feeds the growing tension between research and teaching is that research has become narrower and more impractical, thus contributing to innovation and the company less than before.

For example, start-up companies have been the main drivers of innovation in the United States for the past 40 years. However, the preliminary results of my research with Martin Kenney and Donald Patton on the IPOs (initial public offerings) presented in the United States show that the proportion of senior managers and directors who have PhDs in these successful startups was approximately reduced to half between 1990 and 2010.

If we exclude life sciences, which account for approximately half of doctorates, the fall is even greater. Less than 9 percent of senior managers and directors have a Ph.D., and more than half have only a bachelor's degree or an MBA by the end of the 2000s.

My evaluation of the billion-dollar creation club of the Wall Street Journal finds similar results, but this time analyzing the impact of scientific articles on the patents of these global companies.

Only eight (6%) of the 143 new companies cited more than 10 different scientific articles in their patents and six of them are biotechnological and bioelectronic companies.

The importance of advances in science for new biotechnology companies is not surprising. 90 percent of royalty income for the top 10 universities comes from biotechnology, and universities get a higher percentage of patents granted in biotechnology (about 9 percent) than for all other high-tech sectors (approximately 2 percent).

Once again, apart from biotechnology and related fields, university doctors and professors have a small impact on innovation and business.

 Stock photo of students taking their seats for the diploma ceremony at Harvard University in Cambrid

A college student's graduation. (Photo: Reuters / Brian Snyder)


Relevance of research, coupled with increasing complexity in the real world, makes most university rankings meaningless.

Who cares if their university has a high score in the research rankings if their graduates do not receive high salaries or create successful new companies? Adding value requires universities to contribute to productivity growth, employment and other aspects of local and national economies.

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Seen from this angle, graduates of major universities in Singapore have much lower starting salaries before taxes (approximately S $ 3,500 per month) than graduates from the top 10 universities in the United States (S $ 6,700) or even the 300 or so in the world where graduates have an initial salary of S $ 5,500.

Seen also from this angle, Singapore graduates of the best universities in Singapore have participated in few successful companies in Singapore for the past 30 years.

Nor are senior managers or directors among the US IPOs. UU., Ranking well below the graduates of universities in the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, Taiwan, Germany, France, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia and South Africa. According to my research

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USA because their universities have been feeling the impact of the changes discussed above for many years.

For example, trust in universities, experts and institutions in general has plummeted in the US. UU As students realize that college education is not as practical and, therefore, it is not as valuable as it once was.

These problems became well known after the 2008 World Financial Crisis, when many college graduates could not find work, even those with low pay. Many students realized that they had been in school for many years and still had few business skills.

In the United States, high school students are also becoming aware of this problem and it is one of the reasons why they have trouble choosing a career or even a specialization. They realize that in their 10 years of school, they have learned little about work, which implies for many professions and, therefore, the advantages and disadvantages of various career options.

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 United States without employment

Stock photo of a man looking for job opportunities in a job center in San Francisco, California. (Photo: REUTERS / Robert Galbraith)

Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, illuminates some of the problems with education in his book The Case Against Education .

Through an evaluation of statistical research on employment and wages, it shows that most of the high salaries reached by high school and university graduates come from "signaling" and not from the best skills.

Employers pay higher salaries to high school and college graduates because these graduates have "pointed out" in their titles and in their high grades the attributes of intelligence, diligence and compliance, attributes that are favored by companies.

But as the percentage of people graduating from universities increases, the bar increases, making it difficult for college graduates to get the jobs that college graduates got 30 years ago.

Caplan documents how recent college graduates in the US UU More and more employees can be found in bars, restaurants and other jobs previously occupied by less educated workers, simply because companies value educational signage.

Singapore does the same, for example, by hiring Filipino university graduates to work in bars and restaurants, even though the skills covered in university courses are not used in these jobs.


What should universities in Singapore do to avoid the downward spiral into which many parts of the American education system have entered?

One option is to increase the number of practitioners among the faculty to increase the practicality of the courses, something that many important universities do.

The advantage of professionals is that they have a deep practical knowledge, but this can also be a disadvantage. Different products, services, companies and institutions require different types of solutions and, therefore, the deep and limited knowledge of professionals can lead students away from unique solutions and address unique solutions.

 PHOTO OF THE ARCHIVE: The students attend a conference in the auditorium of a university in Munich

Students attend a lecture in the auditorium of a university in Munich, Germany, May 25, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS / Michaela Rehle / Stock Photo)

For example, automotive companies operate differently than semiconductor companies. Therefore, professionals with extensive knowledge are needed, knowledge that once had a doctorate from the faculty before academic journals became their sole obsession.

Some argue that universities should even consider hiring professionals as department heads, something that has been tried by business schools, but had mixed success.

This mixed success came from the rejection of doctoral scholars who were not interested in practical teaching and research advocated by professionals.

Deans could not fire poor teachers, reassign them or even hire better teachers because full professors have large amounts of power. This provides another reason why the pendulum should turn towards teaching among doctoral professors.

For the pendulum to recede, leadership is required; leadership of university deans, officers and presidents and in Singapore, ultimately the Ministry of Education to hire teachers with more knowledge about the real world of work, even if they do not have as many publications in important journals as others.

In the end, the government of Singapore can decide the kind of universities they want, the ones that get the best results in research or the ones that give Singaporeans the skills that will lead them to higher wages, successful businesses and faster productivity growth.

Jeffrey Funk is a retired associate professor of administration at the National University of Singapore.

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