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RossAnderson
Cambridge
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I posted a very slightly critical comment on Becker's post yesterday. Now it's gone. Maybe Judge Posner should tell him to put it back, as a matter of credibility.
Toggle Commented Jun 24, 2013 on Tax Reform—Posner at The Becker-Posner Blog
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The traditional economic analysis of higher education recognises two components – the human-capital component and the signalling component. Degrees in subjects like veterinary medicine or computer science help you earn a living directly while classics or art history simply signal to employers that you're clever and diligent. Elite universities have a particular advantage in signalling because of their restrictive admissions. Making a Stanford AI course available worldwide clearly adds value, in that tens of thousands of engineers acquire theoretical insights and useful skills. It may even provide some signalling benefits, in that engineers educated at unknown institutions in less developed countries have an opportunity to show that they can hack it along with engineers educated in North America and Europe. However I'm slightly sceptical about the value added if a humanities degree is scaled up in this way, as the signal will be diluted. I'm also sceptical about the effects of scaling up degrees that prepare for professions that restrict entry, as medics and lawyers do in many countries. In Britain, a generation ago, pretty well anyone who completed a law degree could get a training place which led to professional registration. Now there are many more law graduates than training places, giving an advantage to students whose parents have connections with law firms. Thus even though the increase in university provision in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s was designed to promote social mobility, it did the opposite in case of the law. So MOOCs are great for industries like computing where the demand for skilled labour is large and growing. For more traditional pursuits, their benefits may be more nuanced.
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Nov 26, 2012