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大学不是一盘生意 Running a university is not like selling baked beans

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2016年03月05日

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  Four of the 10 top-rated universities in the world,five of the top 20 and 10 of the top 50 are British.This is according to the QS world university rankings. But other rankings are similar. Despite itsvastly greater size and wealth, the US has only five of the top 10 and 18 of the top 50.Continental Europe has none of the top 10 and a mere four of the top 50. In higher education,the UK is a superpower.

  全球排名前十的大学中有4所是英国的,前20中有5所、前50中则有10所。这是根据QS世界大学排名榜(QSWorld University Rankings)的排名得出的。但其他排行榜的排名情况也差不多。尽管美国比英国大得多、也富裕得多,但全球排名前十的大学中仅有5所是美国的、前50中仅有18所。欧洲大陆没有一所大学排进前十,排进前50的也只有4所。就高等教育而言,英国是一个超级大国。

  One would assume that the government would approach reform with circumspection. Butone would be wrong. Radical new plans were introduced in a discussion document, “Fulfillingour Potential”, published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills at the end oflast year. The central idea is to “open up the sector to greater competition from new high-quality providers”. These providers, some of which are private businesses, will find it quiteeasy to become “universities” and award their own degrees. They will be able to enter thesector and also exit. The government has also lifted limits on the numbers eligible for studentloans. But it imposes no minimum academic qualification on those taking out such loans.

  人们会想当然地认为,政府会谨慎地对待高等教育改革。但这么想你就错了。去年底,英国商务、创新与技能部(Department of Business, Innovation and Skills)公布了一份名为《发挥我们的潜能》(Fulfilling ourPotential)的讨论文件,其中提出了激进的新方案。核心主张在于,“放开这一行业,引入来自新的高质量教育提供商的更激烈竞争。”这些提供商(有些是私营企业)将发现,成为“大学”、并颁发自己的学位,是相当容易的。它们将可以进入、也可以退出该行业。此外,政府已取消了学生贷款发放人数限制。但政府并未设定学生贷款获得者所需满足的最低学业标准。

  The question is partly whether it makes sense to view higher education as a business. Thegovernment recognises problems. But it underestimates them.

  问题部分在于,把高等教育视为一门生意是否合理。政府看到了问题,但低估了问题。

  In its origins and still today, a university is a special institution: a community of teachers andscholars. Its purpose is to generate and impart understanding, from generation to generation.The university is a glory of our civilisation. It is neither a business nor a training school. Of allthis, the discussion document shows little inkling. Abusing a label may not matter so much;not recognising the role of universities does.

  从诞生之日起到现在,大学一直是一种特殊的机构:一个由老师和学者构成的团体。大学的宗旨是产生并传播智慧,代代相传下去。大学是人类文明的骄傲。大学既不是企业,也不是培训学校。对于以上这些,该讨论文件几乎丝毫没有提到。滥用一个标签或许无关紧要;认不清大学的角色,关系就大了。

  An immediate concern, however, is whether the conditions for a competitive market exist.Special institutions have long provided higher education, for good reasons. By definition,students cannot understand what they are buying: that is what makes them students. Thevalue of what they obtain is likely to become evident over many years. They rely onreputation. They must believe, therefore, that the institution cares about its reputation.That is why the longevity of these institutions is so vital.

  然而,眼下的担忧是,构建竞争性市场的条件是否已经具备。高等教育长期以来一直是由特殊机构提供的,这有充分的理由。显然,学生们并不理解他们购买的教育服务:购买教育服务之后,他们才成为学生。他们所获得服务的价值可能许多年后才会显现出来。他们看重学校的声望。因此,他们一定认为,大学也关心自己的声望。这就是大学历史悠久如此重要的原因。

  Moreover, external regulation of complex activities such as this always struggles to offsetconflicts of interest. In this case, the government funds the fees through loans repayable on anincome-contingent basis: the less students earn, the less they repay.

  此外,对于这类复杂活动的外部监管,始终很难抵消利益冲突。在大学的例子里,政府通过向学生提供贷款负担了学费,这些贷款是必须偿还的,还多还少则基于学生的收入:收入越低,偿还的贷款就越少。

  For students, then, the risks of a failed period of study are (rightly) capped. But this creates anopportunity for unscrupulous profit-seeking businesses. The government will fund the fees,regardless. If students fail, tax bear the losses. Particularly in the absence of tough minimumstandards for entrants to courses or any limit on numbers, such providers would have apowerful incentive to maximise numbers of students, regardless of the outcomes for them.Many students will be ill informed. If they are better informed, they can comfort themselveswith the knowledge that the cost to themselves is limited. The answer to all this in thediscussion document is “risk-based” regulation. But it is doubtful whether these risks areadequately identifiable.

  于是,对学生们而言,一段教育经历不成功的风险被(恰当地)限制了。但这也为那些唯利是图的企业提供了可乘之机。政府无论如何都将负担学费。如果学生未能成才,那么纳税人将承受损失。尤其是在没有设立严格的入学门槛、也没有设定最大招生人数的情况下,这样的教育服务提供商将有强大动力招收尽可能多的学生,不管他们的培养结果会如何。许多学生什么也不懂。如果他们懂得多一点,他们会知道,自己承担的成本很少,从而感到安慰。在讨论文件中,所有这一切的应对方案就是“基于风险的”监管。但值得怀疑的是,这些风险能否被充分识别。

  The risks for taxpayers must be substantial. Remember that students from the EU are eligiblefor loans on the same terms. But it is hard to make them repay. That must make them ahoneypot for unscrupulous providers. Remember, too, that, as Jo Johnson, minister for highereducation, notes, “the graduate earnings gap is in decline, and... numbers of graduates aregoing into non-graduate jobs.” This surely reflects the fact that, at the margin, quality of bothstudents and courses is already declining. Why would unlimited taxpayer-funded andsubsidised expansion of profit-seeking provision remedy this? It seems unlikely.

  纳税人要承担的风险肯定不小。要知道,来自欧盟(EU)的学生也有资格获得同等条件的贷款。但让他们偿还贷款又很难。那些唯利是图的教育服务提供商肯定会对他们趋之若鹜。另外还要知道的是,正如英国大学与科学国务大臣乔约翰逊(Jo Johnson)所指出,“高校毕业生与非高校毕业生的收入差距在缩小,而且……不少高校毕业生走上了不要求高等教育文凭的工作岗位。”这无疑反映出一条事实:从边际角度而言,学生和课程的质量均已开始下降。得到纳税人资金支持和国家补贴的营利性无限扩招凭什么能解决这一问题呢?似乎不太可能。

  The government’s claim that it will be possible to arrange exit of providers relatively easily isalso implausible. Such exit is bound to damage innocent holders of the qualifications theinstitution has provided in the past. Permanence is an essential characteristic of asuccessful institution of higher education.

  政府声称,教育提供商可相对容易地被安排退出,这也是不合理的。一家大学机构退出,必将伤害其过去授予了学位的无辜学生。一家成功的高等教育机构必须具备的一项特征就是长久存续。

  This is not to deny that the sector faces many challenges, particularly as a result of theexpectations now piled upon it. Yet experience with financial deregulation has demonstrated therisks to ignorant customers of taxpayer subsidies to risk-taking businesses, even if they aresubject to external regulation. A government-supported, but market-oriented, highereducation system is open to abuse. The government hopes regulation will manage the risks.Experience suggests it is likely to be disappointed.

  以上并非否认教育行业面临诸多挑战,特别是鉴于眼下人们对它寄予了厚望。不过,过去放松金融管制的经历让我们知道,用纳税人的钱补贴追逐风险的企业会对无知的顾客造成怎样的风险——即便这些企业接受外部监管。由政府支持、但市场化的高等教育体系是容易产生弊端的。政府希望能够通过监管管理好存在的风险。但经验表明,它的希望可能会落空。


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