Monday, April 02, 2007

Silver linings

Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, whose research interests include measuring and promoting happiness, has written something in the Independent about why academia is a rewarding career to enter. His comments about projected earnings look on the generous side to me, but otherwise he makes some good points and raises some significant caveats to potential applicants for academic jobs. Still, it's nice to read something which reminds me of the positive parts of my job.
On the other hand, I'll reserve judgement on his approval of the Labour government's introduction of top-up fees. Let's wait and see whether all those £3K/year bits of funding find their way into improving teaching, research, and academic salaries. And let's see what effects it has on the number and type of student entering universities. Perhaps Economics departments will feel less of a pinch that Classics or Philosophy departments. Time will tell.

1 comment:

Choppa said...

To me, the piece seemed vague and a bit odd.

"Dedication to ideas" in the academic world is nonsense, if understood in the traditional sense. There is some awareness of ideas, and sometimes maybe a readiness to discuss them, but not more. You have to be very lucky to find yourself a congenial group of idea-freaks to pursue trains of thought for days and weeks with.

"Generosity of intellectual spirit" is self-serving flattery of the worst kind, given the warnings earlier in the same breath practically to "advertise" yourself "in a self-obsessed world" and to beware that "academics are mostly keen on acolytes who are mirrors of themselves". In a world of economically driven "publish-or-die" you will only find generosity of spirit among those who no longer care, ie who have nothing to lose or nothing to gain, or are professionally suicidal. And Oswald's world is economically driven, with pay obviously related to "success" measured in publications and status. It is also intensely individualistic and exceptionalist (elitist) - "if most people like your work you can be certain that you have not done anything important", "eschew the latest research fad, and go for iconoclasm".

For a happiness researcher, he is not in the least Epicurean!

And for an economist he has a touchingly naive (or cynically duplicitous) faith that the top-up fees will trickle down (oops, he said "slowly siphon" "vital resources into [...] higher education". As my daughter would say - "yeah, right..." Resources that vital should be funded up front, like Trident or the nuclear industry. And it's a matter of principle that education should be made open to all appropriately interested youngsters , not just those with "real demand" in daddy's bank account.

Finally, for now, he seems totally unaware that "school" comes from the Greek "skhole" - meaning leisure from work (ie from hard sweaty materially productive work) enabling you to devote your time and energy to the active pursuit of things that interest you, like learning, teaching, ideas, theories, art, music, whatever.

He writes "you will be an obsessive self-employed thinker". "Obsessive" I doubt, "self-employed" is a hoot, although the blend "self-obsessed" might hit the mark?? "Thinker" - well and good - covers a multitude of sins, doesn't it?

I wonder how he would react to my iconoclasm? Somehow I don't think I'd like to find out. For my money, Andrew O has himself become the hissing guy in the black helmet.