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Twin troubles

Why the fiscal squeeze combined with the emergence of disruptive technologies could cause difficulties for publicly funded higher education in the US, parts of Europe and Australia. By William Tierney.

In May the University of Southern California recruited two prominent neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Traditionally academic staff have moved from a public to a private university or vice versa for many years. Until recently this was often because one institution offered a superior research environment or higher quality of student than another, not because one was private or another public.

But what distinguished this recent movement from past ones was not only that Arthur Toga and Paul Thompson took virtually their entire laboratory of 110 faculty, researchers and multidisciplinary staff with them, along with an annual budget of $12 million. The rationale for the movement was also distinctive: professors Toga and Thompson said they made the decision because private universities are “often a little quicker on their feet”. Thompson commented that his new employer was more efficient than his old one: it was easier to get things done.

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