Why the Libyan School of Economics isn’t unique

Further to my post about universities being addicted to tainted money, Stefan Collini had an interesting take on the underlying malaise:

All academics in British universities will immediately recognise that nothing they do as scholars and teachers wins anywhere near as much commendation and support from their university’s “senior management team” (older readers may still refer to them as “administrators”) as the securing of some kind of external funding. Such funding may range from a project grant from a research council or charity to the sponsorship of a post or studentship by a local business, and then on to the murkier regions of whole courses and centres being paid for by some overseas government or large corporation.

At first sight, it may seem absurd to bracket all these disparate types of funding together. The first and second kinds are not only innocent of any taint of corruption: they are the bread-and-butter of most working scientists and an increasing number of scholars in the humanities and social sciences as well. But that is precisely what is so insidious and why the LSE case raises systemic rather than merely local questions. Let me illustrate in two ways.

First, it is now axiomatic in British universities that a piece of research that was financed by any of these forms of external funding is ipso facto superior to one that is financed indirectly out of the university’s recurrent income. Such external funding is, in principle, supposed to cover the “extra” costs of doing a piece of research, but this means that in practice academics are now under instructions to incur more expense.

If a book or paper could be written either during the research time that universities still, just about, make available or during a period in which the scholar or scientist in question receives external funding for the notionally additional costs, academics are now obliged by their universities to opt for the latter. Indeed, being able to raise such outside money, from whatever source, is now being written into job advertisements as a requirement of the post.

Spot on. There is one aspect of this that Collini doesn’t discuss, which is that in many scientific and technological disciplines there isn’t any realistic prospect of universities being able to finance the research out of their own stable funding. Maybe the big American Ivy League colleges are exceptions, but even then I doubt it. But research and scholarship in the humanities does not require such lavish funding, and yet even there academics are being pressured to seek external funding and to demonstrate the “impact” of their work. Collini’s strictures apply with even greater force there.