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University jobs aren’t very good ones so perhaps we should have fewer of them?

Summary:
If only those who run our universities actually knew stuff. For they’re making an economic claim about how wondrous our university system is, a claim which shows that we’d probably be better off with rather less of our university system. Not what they’re trying to achieve at all.“University leaders are united in the view that the UK leaving the EU without a deal is one of the biggest threats our universities have ever faced,” the letter says. “As a sector which contributes over £2bn to UK GDP every year and supports 944,000 jobs, it is critical to the national interest, to the economy, communities and wider society, that the UK’s universities thrive post-Brexit.A million jobs producing £2 billion of GDP. That’s about £20,000 per job. And as any fule kno GDP is all incomes, so we can say

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If only those who run our universities actually knew stuff. For they’re making an economic claim about how wondrous our university system is, a claim which shows that we’d probably be better off with rather less of our university system. Not what they’re trying to achieve at all.

“University leaders are united in the view that the UK leaving the EU without a deal is one of the biggest threats our universities have ever faced,” the letter says. “As a sector which contributes over £2bn to UK GDP every year and supports 944,000 jobs, it is critical to the national interest, to the economy, communities and wider society, that the UK’s universities thrive post-Brexit.

A million jobs producing £2 billion of GDP. That’s about £20,000 per job. And as any fule kno GDP is all incomes, so we can say that the maximum income being produced by these jobs averages out at that £20,000. But median income for the UK is some £22,000 when measured for both part and full time. Meaning that university jobs are below average.

Thus we’d be better off if we had rather less university and rather more of just average jobs and incomes.

There is, obviously enough, also that point that universities do more than just produce GDP:

University leaders have said that a no-deal Brexit would constitute “one of the biggest threats” ever faced by the sector, as figures revealed a further decline in EU student enrolment, particularly in postgraduate research.

According to the Russell Group of universities, there was a 9% decrease in the number of EU postgraduate research students enrolling at its institutions this academic year. The fall follows a 9% decline the previous year, and has potential consequences for Britain’s research capacity.

The thing is, research is a public good. It’s actually the textbook description of a public good. It doesn’t matter who does it nor where we all benefit from it being done. Further, that the people who do it - or the society which finances it - isn’t able to capture the economic benefits precisely because it is one of those public goods.

That is, there’s absolutely no argument at all that we have to be the people who do the research nor that we finance the creation of the public good. Things discovered by a German postgraduate student in an Italian university enrich us just as much as the same work undertaken here does. If this isn’t true then there’s no argument in favour of any of that public subsidy they’re worried about.

We could well be better off if we had less of this university stuff in our society that is.

Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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