Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Globe points a finger

First Simpson, now Wente: the Globe and Mail thinks it knows what's wrong with Canada's universities. The answer? Research! Oh, and also: overpaid professors.

So did you know that university research is holding Canada back? Simpson (emphasis added):
If big universities spent half as much time and sustained effort trying to improve undergraduate teaching as they do searching for more research money, they, the students and the country might be better off.

Or that sixty-hour weeks pounding out papers are just one big fat vacation? Wente (again, emphasis added):
But the full professors ... have a very pleasant life. They can make $125,000 a year, with a good pension and six months off each year to do as they please.

But economic data suggests that private industry is not ready to take over for my lazy six-months-off ass. According to Parliament's Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology (link):
business R&D intensity (expenditure as a percentage of GDP) in Canada is lower than the OECD average, and that the business sector both funds and performs a lower percentage of total national R&D than does the business sector in other OECD countries.

What's more, Simpson knows this. Concerning the collapse of Nortel, he wrote in favor of government intervention:
Even in decline, Nortel continued to spend $1.8-billion a year on research, in a country starved for private-sector research.

So that's right, Mr. Simpson and Ms. Wente. In a country starved for private sector research, let's pretend that the really important thing is use universities as an extension of high school, whose job is largely to churn out B.A. and B.Sc. grads. Not at all to advance the economy into the 21st century with new ideas and new technologies, no sir! By the way, where are all those grads -- in a "better off" Canada -- going to work?

And the complaints about professors' pay -- both Simpson's and Wente's -- are just ridiculous. Even on their face, they are just out-of-context numbers. But in my own situation, according to this, the median salary for a PhD in electrical engineering with 1-4 years of experience is $88,647 (US) -- considerably more than I'm making. And anecdotally, my friends in industry seem to be making 10-20% more than me. So I would suggest that I'm a bargain.

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