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Is US higher education the best in the world?


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I often hear a claim that US universities are the best in the world, often backed up by lists like the Shanghai Ranking.

 

So, are they? 

This claim gets my inner skeptic on for a simple reason - they are not free unlike universities in my.country (Poland)

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It really depends on which level you are looking at it. Undergrad? Not so much. There can be differences in how the technical labs are equipped, though in the US (and elsewhere) labs are getting cut because of cost. This trend is less so in countries in which Universities are not funded by tuition. I will also add that having tuition as a significant part of the university budget often creates perverse incentives and often also leads to administrative bloat. Examples include having offices who are actively trying to recruit and attract students, which is largely absent in entirely publicly funded institutions. Likewise, there is more incentive for student retention, which is associated with higher grade inflation. From a student perspective the experience can be better as there is more support (incl. recruitment, accommodation, living space, guidance and career counseling, as well as easier to grieve grades). But it does not mean that the education is better (often the reverse, actually).

On the graduate level, that depends more on individual researchers than the university per se. I.e. individual profs can run successful groups regardless on which university they are working in. However, there are disparities between countries. The US provides quite a bit of funding for research, but there are quite differences between European countries. Highly ranked universities are often also flush with money and often support profs more with resources to establish successful research programs. 

That being said, there are many moderately or low ranked universities with good researchers and successful (research) graduate programs. Things are a bit iffier when the University primarily sees itself as a teaching university. There, Profs struggle to maintain a program as they get virtually no support (e.g. no lab space). They therefore rarely have successful programs in natural sciences (though they might have social science programs).

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On 1/31/2024 at 10:23 PM, CharonY said:

It really depends on which level you are looking at it. Undergrad? Not so much. There can be differences in how the technical labs are equipped, though in the US (and elsewhere) labs are getting cut because of cost. This trend is less so in countries in which Universities are not funded by tuition. I will also add that having tuition as a significant part of the university budget often creates perverse incentives and often also leads to administrative bloat. Examples include having offices who are actively trying to recruit and attract students, which is largely absent in entirely publicly funded institutions. Likewise, there is more incentive for student retention, which is associated with higher grade inflation. From a student perspective the experience can be better as there is more support (incl. recruitment, accommodation, living space, guidance and career counseling, as well as easier to grieve grades). But it does not mean that the education is better (often the reverse, actually).

On the graduate level, that depends more on individual researchers than the university per se. I.e. individual profs can run successful groups regardless on which university they are working in. However, there are disparities between countries. The US provides quite a bit of funding for research, but there are quite differences between European countries. Highly ranked universities are often also flush with money and often support profs more with resources to establish successful research programs. 

That being said, there are many moderately or low ranked universities with good researchers and successful (research) graduate programs. Things are a bit iffier when the University primarily sees itself as a teaching university. There, Profs struggle to maintain a program as they get virtually no support (e.g. no lab space). They therefore rarely have successful programs in natural sciences (though they might have social science programs).

Why do you think so many US universities make it to top ranks?

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The US provides quite a bit of funding for research, but there are quite differences between European countries. Highly ranked universities are often also flush with money and often support profs more with resources to establish successful research programs. 

 

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1 hour ago, Otto Kretschmer said:

Why do you think so many US universities make it to top ranks?

 

Quote

 

https://www.bestcolleges.com/news/analysis/2021/10/27/is-us-higher-education-still-the-best-in-the-world/

In the 2023 edition [Shanghai Rankings], eight of the top 10 institutions are American, as are 15 of the top 20. This representation is exactly the same as it was in 2003, when the rankings debuted.

What does such dominance mean? It certainly means America's best are considered among the world's best, at least by STEM-related standards. But are we the world's best system?

Bentley MacLeod and Miguel Urquiola, writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, aren't convinced. They point out that although the U.S. accounts for 40 of the top 100 universities in the Shanghai rankings and Spain accounts for zero, 83% of public Spanish universities appear in the top 1,000, while only 23% of all American institutions do.

 

Apparently it's not "so many" US universities that make it to the top ranks. 

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38 minutes ago, Phi for All said:

 

Apparently it's not "so many" US universities that make it to the top ranks. 

As I alluded to earlier, it is related to how funding (for teaching and research) is allocated, and in the US (but also Canada, and I believe UK) there is marked disparity in what universities get. Also in many publicly funded universities in Europe you lack many amenities (and sports teams), but in return you can study without getting into debt.

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