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What if there were no universities? - Jan W. Vasbinder (2017)

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What if there were no universities? - Jan W. Vasbinder (2017)

  1. 1. What if there were no universities? Jan W. Vasbinder Para Limes, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Abstract: To a large extent, the pursuit of science takes place in universities. In this essay, I ask the following questions. Supposing there were no universities, and that all the knowledge mankind has ever collected and generated is somehow accessible, would we invent universities to make this knowledge available to address the problems humanity faces? What should those universities perform, and what role would science play in such universities? To look for answers to those questions, I consider the nature of the problems dealt with by science, the knowledge needed to address those problems, the gap between the two, the need for interdisciplinarity and the need to edu- cate the leaders of the future, and finally, the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Keywords: access to knowledge; boundaries of knowledge; complexity lens; education; future leaders; grand challenges; interdisciplin- ary science; Manhattan Project; research university Correspondence: Mr. Jan W. Vasbinder, Para Limes, Nanyang Technological University, Nanyang Executive Centre, #04-08, 60 Nanyang View, Singapore 639673. Email: jvasbinder@ntu.edu.sg Received 29 August 2017. Accepted 16 October 2017. The world is facing enormous challenges. All available human creative and constructive power should be mobilized to meet these challenges. How can this be done? In trying to find an answer to this question, we will have to deal with two key positions that modern universities hold in our world. Universities are bastions of education and bastions of science. Because of these positions, universities have a heavy stake in the answer. The purpose of this special report is to offer some thoughts for a very necessary discussion about the future place and role of universities in our society. From whatever direction one approaches such a discussion, it is inevitable that it will be influenced by the positions and opinions one holds relative to the existing univer- sities. That is why this report starts from the posi- tion that there are no universities and then focuses on the essential needs of society, such as finding solutions to global problems, educa- tion, or the irrepressible urge to expand the boundaries of knowledge. The key question that should then be discussed by everyone who will be affected by the answer is: What is required to meet those needs? But suppose that there were no universities. And suppose that all the knowledge1 that humankind has ever collected and generated is accessible somehow. Would we invent uni- versities as we now know them, to make this knowledge available to address the problems that humanity faces? If so, what functions would have to be performed by those univer- sities? What role would science play in such universities? To look for answers to these questions, let us take stock of some of the key ingredients that must go into the answers: (1) the nature of the problems, (2) the knowledge needed to address those problems, (3) the gap between the available and the required knowledge, (4) the need for interdisciplinarity, (5) educating the leaders of the future, and (6) the boundaries of scientific knowledge. The nature of the problems Warren Weaver (1948) looked at the development of sci- ence by defining the problems it could solve. He distin- guished three types of science: (1) science that can solve © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd PsyCh Journal 6 (2017): 316–325 DOI: 10.1002/pchj.199
  2. 2. simplistic problems (defined by a few variables, between which the relation can be expressed in a simple formula2 ); (2) science that can solve problems of disorganized com- plexity (defined as numerous–variable problems suitable for probability analysis3 ); and (3) science that can solve prob- lems of organized complexity (defined as problems with a moderate number of variables and interrelationships that cannot be fully captured in probability analysis nor suffi- ciently reduced to a simple formula). The science that deals with problems of organized com- plexity is largely equivalent to complexity science. The problems that the world is facing all fall into that class of complex problems. The very nature of those problems defies a reductionist or disciplinary approach.4 One might say that a complex problem is a manifestation of the behavior of a complex adaptive system (see Figure 1 for a general description of complex adaptive systems). Of those systems, it is known that any outside intervention leads to Figure 1. A general description of complex adaptive systems. [Color figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com] PsyCh Journal 317 © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
  3. 3. unexpected consequences. Thus, by their nature, those prob- lems do not have solutions. However, that does not mean that there are no ways to influence the behavior of such systems. It is important to note here that the evolution of universi- ties as we know them has resulted in institutes built around sharply divided disciplines. Their structures and the ecosys- tems that support them are strongly tilted against dealing with problems of organized complexity; universities in gen- eral have great problems in introducing interdisciplinarity as a way to address complexity. The knowledge needed to address those problems If we cast our net wide enough, humankind may have all the knowledge necessary to find solutions to its problems. There is an enormous body of knowledge and wisdom embedded in the works of ancient philosophers, whether from Mesopotamia, Greece, China, Arabia, or elsewhere. In fact, there are books from each of those cultures that, very much in similar ways, deal with day-to-day life and ways to relate to complexity (although the word is never used).5 The knowledge in these books constitutes a general knowl- edge about the systems that are important to people.6 If it had been put into practice in the last 100 years, that knowledge could have been very relevant in avoiding many of the complex problems and excesses to which the world has fallen victim.7 “Problem based learning … is a way of constructing and teaching courses using problems as the stimu- lus and focus for student activity ... It is a way of conceiving of the curriculum as being centered upon key problems in professional practice. Prob- lem based courses start with problems rather than with exposition of disciplinary knowledge. They move students towards the acquisition of knowl- edge and skills through a staged sequence of prob- lems presented in context, together with associated learning materials and support from teachers.” Boud and Feletti (1997, p. 2) To what extent scientific knowledge would constitute a part of those solutions is not as clear as it may seem. Partly because scientific knowledge is not organized to address non- scientific problems, partly because of the way it has been organized during recent centuries (increasingly along disci- plinary lines), and partly because of the jargon it uses, this type of knowledge is highly inaccessible for non-disciplinary experts. So how might we identify the knowledge needed to address the problems? I think the first step is to take the prob- lems as the lead. Rather than developing knowledge and try- ing to determine for what kind of problems it might be useful, the problems could provide the clues as to what kind of knowledge is required to develop effective interventions. This problem-based approach has been explored for some time now in a number of universities around the world.8 It has led to a new type of education: problem-based learning. The gap between the available and the required knowledge Given the problem and the knowledge that is available and relevant to the problem, the key issue becomes bringing that knowledge to bear on it, to identify gaps, and to develop a strategy for addressing the problem while at the same time developing ways to fill the knowledge gaps. There are, at this stage, no established methods to accomplish this. How- ever, we can make a few observations and suggestions that may help to find and develop such methods. Complexity lens The complexity lens would be a tool for decision makers in policy, in industry, or elsewhere to determine whether a prob- lem is complex and, if so, what level of complexity it has. Such a tool would have many advantages. Amongst others: • It would enable decision makers to take a “crude look at the whole,” before deciding whether to take action and, if so, what type of actions.9 • It would take the discussion about complex problems and how to deal with them out of the world of science and move it into the real world.10 • It would help decision makers to determine what type of resources must be mobilized to either solve the problem (if not complex) or develop effective interventions to steer the complex system in a direction that is beneficial for humankind.11 A complexity lens provides a way to see the com- plexity of our world. Such a lens (or set of lenses) does not exist yet but efforts are underway to craft 318 What if there were no universities? © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
  4. 4. it. At a workshop titled “Complexity Lens,” orga- nized by Para Limes @NTU in 2016 at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, leading scientists and practitioners provided an overview of the needs, the possibilities, and the state of the art. In May 2017, the Framework for Acting Under Uncertainty and Complexity (FAUCTM ) was launched, which illustrates one of many ways in which a complexity lens might be crafted. To craft such a lens, we need the knowledge and expertise of all scientific disciplines as well as the creative imagina- tion of artists, the conceptualizing power of philosophers, and the hands-on experience of men and women of practice. Together they must continuously improve the quality of that lens, by adding new features or by eliminating distortions. Urgency and time frames There is an increasing urgency to effectively address the problems that humankind is facing, problems as diverse as rapid urbanization, the impact of technology, climate change, the stability of markets, the availability of energy, water and resources, poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, and the loss of biodiversity. Time and money can no longer be wasted by allowing individual scientists in innumerable small-scale projects in university laboratories all around the world to dally with these problems. Instead we need to mobilize and focus the bright minds of our world to work on these problems. That this can be done was demonstrated in the Manhattan Project.12 In retrospect, the Manhattan Project showed some important lessons regarding this approach (see, e.g., Gleick, 1992): • A solution to an urgent problem could be “designed” by mobilizing the best minds in the world to work together. • No “new” fundamental breakthroughs were required to find that solution. Instead, ways were found to bring the available and relevant knowledge to bear on the problem. • There are management approaches and structures in which scientists of many different disciplines can work together to solve an urgent problem. • Given the problem, the existing knowledge, and the man- agement structure, universities played no direct role in finding the solution. The Manhattan Project was an extreme example of what can be done if the creativity of bright minds is channeled by determination. I believe that the threats humanity is fac- ing at this very moment are not less severe than the threats the world faced during World War II. Yet the time frames in which the existing research infrastructures operate are not determined by global urgency, but by the need to sus- tain that infrastructure. I therefore suggest that to counter those threats we start (Manhattan-like) projects outside the existing research infrastructures in which the creativity and knowledge of the best minds in the world are channeled towards ensuring a sustainable human life on earth. Experiments At this moment, our understanding of the behavior of com- plex systems is insufficient to propose large-scale interven- tions. We simply cannot foresee their consequences. Therefore, although it may seem trivial in light of the grand statement made above, at this stage, the “safest” way to proceed seems to be to develop small experiments by which the nature of the consequences of interventions can be kept small and can be studied and understood. The power embedded in cultural differences Differences are the catalysts for creativity; they embody the forces of change. To release the creative power embedded in cul- tural differences one must remove or navigate the barriers that prevent both sides of the dialogue from understanding each other. There are no proven methods on how to do this. So, one must experiment. One such experiment is the Singapor- ean Platform for East–West Dialogue. The plat- form was established following the conference “East of West, West of East,” in which different aspects of the barrier between East and West were identified and discussed. The conference was organized by Para Limes @NTU in October 2016 in Singapore. Cultures embody the knowledge and wisdom of doing things. Different cultures provide different perspectives on doing things. For hundreds of years, the Western world has claimed superiority over other cultures. By Westernizing the world, the West ignored the values embedded in the cultures it colonized. By failing to see the long-term prob- lems it was creating for the world in doing things the PsyCh Journal 319 © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
  5. 5. Western way, it also failed to see the value of doing things in the ways of other cultures. At the same time, out of exis- tential urgency, the suppressed cultures adopted the West- ern ways of doing things (as much as they could), thus ignoring some of the values they had been building and treasuring for ages. Worldwide, this has caused—and is still causing—unrest, revolutions, and wars, making it diffi- cult for all cultures to communicate with other cultures, let alone appreciate their values (Von Laue, 1987). Differences fertilized by dialogue bear opportunities and new riches; differences fertilized by non-communication bear conflict. With the purpose to mobilize all available human creative and constructive power in order to effec- tively address the problems the world faces, it is an abso- lute necessity to look for ways to start the communication between cultures in order to mobilize the many kinds of knowledge about doing things and to unleash the creative power that is embedded in the differences. The need for interdisciplinarity None of the big problems that I have been alluding to have anything to do with the way science has organized itself in disciplines. If only for that reason, it should be clear that these problems cannot be addressed in an effective way by the discipline of science as we know it. In his iconic article “More is Different,” P. W. Anderson (1972) states: The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamen- tal laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. In fact, the more the elementary particle physicists tell us about the nature of fundamental laws, the less relevance they seem to have to the very real problems of the rest of science, much less to those of society. (p. 393) Two kinds of interdisciplinarity Evolutionary interdisciplinarity refers to the phe- nomenon that stretching the boundaries of a sci- entific discipline inevitably leads to a point where the boundaries of an adjacent discipline are crossed. Revolutionary interdisciplinarity refers to combi- nations of disciplines that are characterized by the fact that no matter how an individual discipline develops, it will never tread on the territory of the other disciplines. Such combinations enclose an enormous potential for new knowledge. The Santa Fe Institute (SFI) in New Mexico was the first institute that took that realization as a starting point. In its first 10 years, the relation between simplicity (such as mani- fested in the fundamental laws of physics) and complexity (as we see and experience it around us) became the focus of the institute, leading to the emergence of the new science of complex adaptive systems. Later, the intense and broad inter- disciplinary collaboration within the SFI led to new fields where general theories and models were developed, such as evolution, scaling in biology, computation as a principle in nature, general theories of organization, networks, intelligent agents, sources of novelty, robustness, and linguistics. It is my conviction that in order to meet the big challenges of humanity, there is an urgent need for the interdisciplinarity that was pioneered in the SFI. I think that interdisciplinarity should be extended to include philosophers, artists, and peo- ple of practice. It is also my conviction that such interdisci- plinarity can best be developed in new institutes that are independent of the traditional disciplinary infrastructures of science, such as universities and their funding agencies. Educating the leaders of the future At the beginning of this essay, I asked the question: If we assume that all the knowledge that humankind has ever col- lected and generated is accessible somehow, would we design universities to make this knowledge available and usable to address the problems humanity faces? If so, what functions would have to be performed by those universi- ties? What role would science play in such universities? In the previous pages, I have suggested some answers to this question. From those answers, it seems that we do not need universities, at least not the type of research universi- ties that at present dominate the academic landscape. (See Appendix for a short description of research universities.) But we do need places to develop and educate huma- niora, mathematics, and philosophy, to educate the leaders of the future, and to prepare young people to shape a better future for humankind. I will call those places universities. Of course, there is not one type of leader of the future, nor are the future and the problems it will pose to humanity in any way known or predictable. 320 What if there were no universities? © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
  6. 6. But it seems to me that there are a number of characteris- tics that will come in handy, whatever the future brings us. Based on those characteristics, I think future leaders and young people who are bent on shaping a better future for humankind, should be: • independent thinkers; • resistant against the temptations of corruption and greed; • able to understand what makes life worth living for “nor- mal” people; • able to navigate the differences between cultures; • able to see and understand the complexity of the situa- tions they will have to deal with; • able to see and use the value of knowledge from many sources; • active social networkers; • able to handle uncertainty; • equipped to seek and find new powerful combinations of knowledge and to be practical in applying those; and • focusing on the use of technology, not on its develop- ment (see also Nussbaum, 2011). If these (and other) points are integrated with principles such as problem-based learning, I feel that there is reason to hope that the educational system in general and a new university system in particular can gain a role (or regain it, if the existing university system can be transformed) as a moral high ground for society where leaders for the future are educated and young people will be equipped with the knowledge and tools to shape a better future. To achieve that goal, the educational system must pose challenges to students that stimulate them to think indepen- dently and to look for new combinations of knowledge to meet the challenges. It also requires mentors/coaches who know from experience what it is to look beyond boundaries and who can induce into the students the excitement of what can be discovered there. Such coaches and mentors exist, and should be held in high esteem. At the same time, the pursuit of knowledge should not be abandoned. The basic arguments used by Vannevar Bush (1975) about the value of scientific knowledge to the well-being of society are as valid as ever.13 However, I con- tend that universities as we know them are not the right places to pursue such knowledge, other than as a way to challenge university students. I think the pursuit of knowledge for the benefit of society should take place outside of universities, in small dedicated institutes in which collaboration is fostered across disciplinary boundaries (like the SFI), where critical masses can be formed (as in the Manhattan Project) that do address the big problems of humanity. Universities should develop close collaborations with such institutes in order to expose their students to the work being done there and to integrate their educational programs with them. The boundaries of scientific knowledge At the same time, there is an ever-present need to explore and expand the boundaries of our knowledge. We need— and always will need—what Helga Nowotny (2012) calls “competent rebels.”14 In fact, universities should provide space and impulses to develop the competence of rebels and allow competent people to rebel. These rebels should be free to follow their intuition and pursue their ideas. For as far as science is funded by the public, only competent rebels should have that privilege, while others who have the com- petence but not the rebellious nature should be considered as scientific workers, whose main task it is to help answer the questions posed by these rebels. Selecting such rebels will then become the key to expanding the boundaries of knowledge. I think none of the present ways to rank scientists have any relevance for the selection of those few scientists. What should be lead- ing is not what they have done, but what they plan to do, how original and risky that is, and what impact it can have on moving the boundaries of knowledge. That is not easy, but throughout history there have been such scientists, and there are such scientists at present. These scientists should get full support to explore the almost infinite combinatorial space that the growing num- bers of disciplines and super-specializations have created. It is in that combinatorial space that most of the big break- throughs in the past took place, all generated by such scien- tists. They should formulate challenging questions to be posed to talented young scientists or coach them into for- mulating their own questions. I believe that that is where some of the big promises for the future lie. Notes 1 No distinction is made here between scientific knowledge and other kinds of knowledge. For such a distinction see Popper (1963). PsyCh Journal 321 © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
  7. 7. 2 Like the relationship between force (F), mass (m), and acceleration (a): F = ma; the relationship between the potential difference measured across a conductor (V), the resistance of the conductor (R), and the current through the conductor (I): V = IR; or the relationship between Energy (E), mass (m), and the speed of light (c): E = mc2 . 3 The basis for thermodynamics. 4 At the time that Weaver wrote his article (1948) there was no science that could address problems of organized complexity. But Weaver predicted that: Some scientists will seek and develop for themselves new kinds of collaborative arrangements; … these groups will have members drawn from essentially all fields of science; and … these new ways of working, effectively instrumented by huge computers, will con- tribute greatly to the advance which the next half cen- tury will surely achieve in handling the complex, but essentially organic, problems of the biological and social sciences. (p. 542) In essence, Weaver said: complexity science requires truly interdisciplinary teams supported by tremendous computing power. That kind of science came about in the early 1980s when Arthur Burks, Bob Axelrod, Michael Cohen, and John Holland began to meet as the BACH Group. The group achieved impact and recognition only after the start of the Santa Fe Institute in 1984. 5 Striking examples are the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ecclesiastes of the Old Testament, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Laozi’s Daodejing, Epicurus’s The Art of Happiness, Michel de Montaigne’s Essays, Benedict Spinoza’s Ethics, and there are many more. 6 Such wisdom or knowledge is often expressed in proverbs and sayings, or in rituals. 7 For example, if people would have pursued “happiness” in Epicurean terms, the global epidemic of type 2 diabetes would not exist, nor would consumerism have polluted the world. 8 Most notably, McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada (http://www.mcmaster.ca), University of Maastricht in the Netherlands (http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl), Aarhus University in Denmark (http://www.au.dk/en/about/profile/), and Arizona State University in the USA (http://www. asu.edu). 9 When discussing the problem of understanding complex systems in a 1990 conference about the research in the Santa Fe Institute, Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann famously said: “It is necessary to look at the whole system, even if that means taking a crude look, and then allow pos- sible simplifications to emerge from the work” (1991, pp. 8–9, emphasis added). 10 Paraphrasing a metaphor proposed by Joël de Rosnay in his book, The Macroscope (1975), in the same manner that lenses in the microscope offer a view of the microscopic world and the lenses in the telescope offer a view of the universe, the complexity lens will offer a view of the com- plex world. To look at these different worlds through these different lenses allows the viewer to gain insights into those worlds without the need to know how to craft the different types of lenses. 11 Present day decision makers seem to assume that all problems are solvable, and they spend enormous amounts of public money trying to solve them or to find ways to solve them, mostly without any positive effect. In many cases this money primarily serves to uphold existing infra- structures and decision circuits. 12 The urgency that was felt to win World War II before Germany could build an atomic bomb translated into a pro- ject in which the best scientists of the time collaborated to build the bomb first. 13 In the report, Science — The Endless Frontier, which Vannevar Bush presented to President Truman in July 1945, Bush argued that “Basic research leads to new knowledge. It provides scientific capital. It creates the fund from which the practical applications of knowledge must be drawn.” Bush held the view that to pursue this basic research requires a continuous and intensive government support for science: “Basic research is a long-term process - it ceases to be basic if immediate results are expected on short-term support.” Consequently, he introduced the principle of a strong federal role for the pursuit of knowledge in the United States, a doc- trine that would prevail for the coming decades. 14 For Helga Nowotny, top researchers are competent rebels. In 2012, when she was still the president of the European Research Council, she gave the following remarks about researchers in an interview at the Catholic University of Leuven. They must call into question the work of the previous generation, always based on skills and knowledge. There must also be room for a large variety of new ideas. The pressure on young researchers to publish is enormous, but this should never mean that they must think in the mainstream. Their curiosity carries them into unknown territory and that is why policy 322 What if there were no universities? © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
  8. 8. makers and fund providers must have patience and trust. Seemingly useless knowledge can later prove to be very useful. (Nowotny, 2012) 15 The first global ranking system was published in 2003 by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Since then many other sys- tems have come up, such as Times Higher Education and QS. References Anderson, P. W. (1972). More is different. Science, 177, 393–396. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.177.4047.393 Atkinson, R. C., & Blanpied, W. A. (2008). Research universities: Core of the US science and technology system. Technology in Society, 30, 30–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techsoc.2007 .10.004 Boud, D., & Feletti, G. (1997). The challenge of problem-based learning (2nd ed.). London, UK: Kogan Page. Bush, V. (1945). Science — The endless frontier (Report to the President by the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development). Retrieved from https://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa /nsf50/vbush1945.htm de Rosnay, J. (1975). The macroscope: A new world scientific sys- tem. New York, NY: Harper and Row. Gell-Mann, M. (1991). The Santa Fe Institute (SFI Working Paper No. 91-03-17). Retrieved from the Santa Fe Institute website: https://sfi-edu.s3.amazonaws.com/sfi-edu/production/uploads /sfi-com/dev/uploads/filer/30/61/30618507-f04b-4724-8d48-eae 50fe84a1f/91-03-017.pdf Gleick, J. (1992). Genius: The life and science of Richard Feyn- man. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Nowotny, H. (2012). Helga Nowotny, President of the ERC: “Europe must regain its confidence through science.” [Inter- view published online in conjunction with the Leuven Interna- tional Forum, held in Leuven, Belgium, June 2012]. Retrieved from https://nieuws.kuleuven.be/en/content/2012/LIF/meet-the- honourees/interviews/helga-nowotny-president-of-the-european- research-council-europe-must-regain-its-confidence-through-science Nussbaum, M. (2011, August 19). Educating for profit, educating for freedom. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/religion /articles/2011/08/19/3297258.htm Pielke, R., Jr. (2010). In retrospect: Science — The endless fron- tier. Nature, 466, 922–923. https://doi.org/10.1038/466922a Popper, K. R. (1963). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. London, England: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Von Laue, T. H. (1987). The world revolution of Westernization. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Weaver, W. (1948). Science and complexity. American Scientist, 36, 536–544. PsyCh Journal 323 © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
  9. 9. Appendix Research universities, funds, and changing values Science — The endless frontier The number of research universities in the United States and, later, in the rest of the world grew rapidly in the wake of the report, Science — The Endless Frontier, by Vannevar Bush (1945), answering the challenge put by President Roosevelt to employ the same kind of “team-work and cooperation in coordinating scientific research and in applying existing scientific knowledge to the solution of the technical problems paramount in war” in peacetime to “the improvement of the national health, the creation of new enterprises bringing new jobs, and the betterment of the national standard of living.” Although motivated by different considerations, the philosophy of Bush’s report is similar to that of Eisen- hower’s speech for the UN, “Atoms for Peace,” in 1953: Make civil use of knowledge developed for winning the war. As a result of Bush’s recommendations, government funding for research and development increased by more than tenfold from the 1940s to the 1960s. Most of that funding went to universities, thus fundamentally changing the balance between education and research in those universities. Research universities are a recent innovation, having emerged in Prussia in the early 19th century, and in the United States only in the aftermath of the Civil War. By 1940, perhaps a dozen American universities could be regarded as first- class research institutions. However, they received virtually no financial support from the US government. In fact, the most far-reaching recommendation of Bush’s report was that it was in the nation’s best interest for the federal government to fund university research. From 1950 through the mid-1970s, such federal support expanded rapidly, resulting in the flowering of the American academic research system, but it was accompanied by a decline in industrial support (Atkinson & Blan- pied, 2008). The funds that started flowing to research universities following Bush’s recommendations also changed the balance between education and research in the universities. The report thus generated the seeds for a fundamental transformation in the relationship between science, universities, and society. Retrospect: Science — The endless frontier. Vannevar Bush introduced the concept of basic research as “a pragmatic compromise between scientists and politicians…[which] could be carried out for curiosity’s sake — satisfying scientists — and could meet national needs, pleasing politicians,” notes Roger Pielke (2010), adding that because, “In recent decades, science policy has shifted its focus towards conferring measurable benefits to society … the concept of basic research no longer seems to fit — nebulous descriptions of benefit are insufficient in today’s competitive environment for public funds” (p. 923). Research universities and their researchers are now fiercely competing for funds. Global ranking systems15 have been developed to introduce measures of relevance into the game. While ranking says very little about the value of a university to society, it puts pressure on the relationship between university research and university education, and undermines cooper- ation between universities and even between departments within universities. What, for hundreds of years, had gone hand in hand and was the main legitimation for the existence of universities threatens to be divorced. The winner appears to be research but at a very high cost. Research universities produce researchers who produce scien- tific papers that must justify their existence as researchers. The “quality” of those researchers is measured by the numbers of papers they produce, the number of times such papers are cited, the status of the journals in which these papers are 324 What if there were no universities? © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
  10. 10. published, the impact factor these journals have, as well as by a number of other measures. The competition for funds and status of a researcher thus translates in indexes that have little to do with the qualitative contribution of the new knowledge to the total body of human knowledge or with the relevance of that knowledge to the problems that need to be solved. But worse than that, in competing for the top students to become paper- and ranking-producing researchers, research universi- ties compete for the best (in this case meaning the very intelligent) people to fight their fight for a higher ranking (which will then again attract the better students), rather than educate those people to optimally use their talents and intelligence to deal with the big problems of humanity. PsyCh Journal 325 © 2017 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd