US public universities ‘more efficient on teaching’

But study by French academics says they tend to perform more poorly on research owing to multi-campus nature of many institutions

May 20, 2018
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Public universities in the US are the most efficient at educating the general population but the large multi-campus nature of many institutions can hinder research efficiency, a study has suggested.

The paper, by two academics based in France, also found that being located in a major city can significantly boost research efficiency for US universities.

Jean-Pascal Guironnet, a researcher at the University of Caen Normandy, and Nicolas Peypoch, of the University of Perpignan Via Domita, compared data on research and teaching in US universities to assess whether various factors affected efficiency.

The data, drawn from public sources like the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (Ipeds), included inputs such as fees and academic pay and outputs such as graduation rates and research impact.

According to the study, published in Socio-Economic Planning Sciences, US universities are broadly similar in terms of how efficient they are at teaching, irrespective of their location.

However, a more detailed analysis of the data revealed that there was also an improvement in teaching efficiency if an institution was more selective on admissions, an effect that was more pronounced for public universities.

As a result, the authors suggest that public universities in highly urban areas “should be more selective” while more rural public institutions should concentrate on educating a wider pool of students. “These latter students could then migrate in[to] more selective universities to pursue their schooling,” they say.

On research, the paper finds that research efficiency fell seven percentage points owing to the more rural location of some universities, something the authors suggest could be down to institutions outside major cities finding it more difficult to attract research funding.

But they also note that “from a university governance perspective, universities that are a part of a system (or corporate structure) are…less efficient than those that are not”.

They suggest that this is why public universities tend to perform worse for research efficiency than their private counterparts. “Notably, in the west of the United States, we can observe that...most public universities are single campus, partially explaining the research productivity of this area,” they write.

Most of these factors explain the make-up of a joint teaching and research table of “inefficient universities” published in the paper, which is largely made up of private institutions in major cities or more rural public universities.

Meanwhile, the study also concludes that research productivity is strongly linked to high wage levels for academics. As a result, the researchers suggest that public universities should consider offering “earning premiums” after academics achieve tenure, “to maintain high research productivity for their senior staff, and offering wage increases similar to those observed in private universities”.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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