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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17193/adam-smith-u-mises-academy-and-educational-utopia/

Adam Smith U, Mises Academy, and Educational Utopia

June 4, 2011 by

Mises Academy: Stephan Kinsella teaches The Social Theory of HoppeInteresting thoughts by Mises Academy student Jock Coats on Mises Academy and the future of online, decentralized, market-driven education. ((See also my “Teaching an Online Mises Academy Course; Fifteen Minutes that Changed Libertarian Publishing“; Doug French, “The Intellectual Revolution Is in Process“; Jeffrey Tucker, “A Theory of Open” and “up with iTunes U“; Gary North, “A Free Week-Long Economics Seminar”.)) Coats notes that back in 2002 he proposed to his university in Oxford

the idea of a “Mutual University.”  The scheme, briefly, was that instead of being monolithic, centrally managed, corporate institutions, in future universities could be collections of worker/student/community/business owned autonomous co-operatives, probably based around subject areas, significant research groups or similar who would be members of a secondary co-operative that they all participated in the running of that would be the umbrella “degree awarding body.”

He then notes that he recently read in David Freidman’s Machinery of Freedom (pdf and Jock’s audio version) the chapter  “Adam Smith U”

which, penned almost exactly three decades before my miserable effort, suggested a similar, though in his case student driven, system whereby if students found modules they wanted to do by providers from outside their universities, they should be allowed to “contract in” such courses and have them accredited toward their final degree.

Now with the flowering of iTunes U, Mises Academy, StatelessU, TED, Khan Academy, and a growing number of initiatives, things are changing rapidly. The Internet and digital technology now support these ideas, ideas that were only 10 years ago nearly utopian. The future is here.

Hopefully some day Mises Academy type courses can receive accreditation and be used for credit in other programs, along the lines Friedman suggests. Something somwhat similar to this was done when I was in the LL.M. (master’s in law) program at University of London in the early 90s. Five of the 30 or so colleges of the U London group had law schools and contributed at the time to a 5-school “group” LL.M–the largest in the world, if I recall correctly, since 5 law schools were pooling their resources. The student had to be accepted at and join one of the 5 colleges as his “home” law school, and then of the 4 courses required, at least 2 had to come from the home college. So I was at King’s College London, and took 2 from King’s, and 2 from LSE. I could see something similar happening, a la Friedman’s idea, where you are at a university/college, and you can take up to X credits from approved outside providers, like TED, Mises Academy, and so on.

BTW I really liked Jock’s observations about Mises Academy in particular:

My current Mises Academy modules provides around three hours contact time per week, together with lots of “offline” interaction between both students (from five continents) and between students and the lecturer, and for an eight week course is costing me $145 including eight class tests and an final grade for the whole course.  Let’s say the average university that will be charging £9,000 from next year gives its students eight ten teaching week modules, they will be somewhere around TEN times the cost of that Mises Academy module.  And I have not had to fork out for any learning resources – everything is available online for freesuch is the sense of mission of people with a passion for their message.  An earlier module I did at the StatelessU project of the Centre for a Stateless Society cost me $25 for an eight week course that had essays every week on the basis of reading lists that would make Oxford University proud!

Here’s the whole post.

p.s. — sign up for my upcoming Mises Academy course, The Social Theory of Hoppe.

“Adam Smith U”

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…or you say “outsourcing”, I say “self-determination”…

I love finding out that what I think are my ideas are not original.  I usually find they have already been thought of by far cleverer people than myself, so feeding the idea that perhaps great minds really do think alike even when they have never heard each other.  Such is the case, roughly anyway, with a view of Higher Education I put forward in 2002 when my own university was consulting on its previous management strategy.

In my case I proposed, in what when I look back on it now seems a hopelessly naive document, the idea of a “Mutual University.”  The scheme, briefly, was that instead of being monolithic, centrally managed, corporate institutions, in future universities could be collections ofmis worker/student/community/business owned autonomous co-operatives, probably based around subject areas, significant research groups or similar who would be members of a secondary co-operative that they all participated in the running of that would be the umbrella “degree awarding body.”  That secondary co-op might also procure common services for its member co-ops, like the central directorates covering functions like Human Resources, Finance, Estates and IT, which might in turn be worker owned co-ops in their own right.

In the back of my mind I had an image of how the ancient collegiate universities like Oxford, our neighbours, formed, and in fact, one of the fatal flaws in my proposal was that I used Oxford’s system of electing a Vice-Chancellor as “primus inter pares” from amongst its constituent colleges for a fixed term as an example – and it happened to be only weeks after they had decided that after Colin Lucas they would no longer use that system but start hiring “professional V-Cs”.

Nonetheless, it was pretty similar in other ways – with their autonomously governed colleges collaborating to form a “university” – though of course theirs tends to be, shall we say, “horizontally integrated” with multi-disciplinary colleges teaching subjects across their four university divisions, whereas my idea was more of “vertical market” subject areas collaborating together to produce a broad range of subjects under the university “umbrella”.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, while I was reading David D Friedman’s “Machinery of Freedom” (pdf and my audio version), I came across his chapter entitled “Adam Smith U” which, penned almost exactly three decades before my miserable effort, suggested a similar, though in his case student driven, system whereby if students found modules they wanted to do by providers from outside their universities, they should be allowed to “contract in” such courses and have them accredited toward their final degree.

Of course, Friedman’s idea is more radical, and to me more exciting now.  Mine was largely co-located and the collaboration was explicit in the secondary co-operative system – if your team of researchers or teachers wanted to be a part of it, they would have to be member/owners of the university co-op and abide by democratically arrived at decisions of that body, such as, potentially, decisions to levy concessions from financially successful subject areas in order to cross fund subjects that were harder to make pay, but deemed essential to providing a broad based university subject offer.

In Friedman’s case there is no such constraint.  The independent module providers could be of all sorts of different corporate forms, or even individuals.  And their one common feature is that a particular university, or a group of them, allow students to include those modules in their degree.  You could imagine, for example, a subject in which it is difficult to achieve “critical mass” for big research projects in one university style institution, gathering researchers into a learned specialist subject academy from across the nation or the world, who would then be able to offer modules to many university type institutions at once.

Think, perhaps, CERN putting together teaching modules that students in many universities around the world could take.  Though it could also be, say, to look back to the heady days of the seventies and eighties in computing, a commercial research facility like the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC).  Or it could be special interest groups, such as I am studying with at the Mises Academy, learned institutes like the RSA maybe or perhaps even franchises of particularly globally popular academic’s work such as Michael Sandel’s Justice at Harvard series.  More prosaically, it could be that an academic attached to a university, happily doing new research but teaching a more established part of her subject cannot justify establishing a whole new module for the few students at her individual institution who might want to take it, but could package something up via her professional group, say the Political Studies Association, for piloting to students from all over the world to make it “profitable” more quickly.

Now, Friedman’s idea might have been particularly difficult forty years ago – the technology to take a module provided by an individual or organisation far away from your base university was hardly available.  Ten years ago even my idea looked more possible with physical colocation of the constituent subject bodies.  But two things have happened since that I think make this an eminently possible future direction for Higher Education – widely available virtual learning and online classroom environments, and the pressure of high fees (especially both in the US and soon to be in the UK).

My current Mises Academy modules provides around three hours contact time per week, together with lots of “offline” interaction between both students (from five continents) and between students and the lecturer, and for an eight week course is costing me $145 including eight class tests and an final grade for the whole course.  Let’s say the average university that will be charging £9,000 from next year gives its students eight ten teaching week modules, they will be somewhere around TEN times the cost of that Mises Academy module.  And I have not had to fork out for any learning resources – everything is available online for free – such is the sense of mission of people with a passion for their message.  An earlier module I did at the StatelessU project of the Centre for a Stateless Society cost me $25 for an eight week course that had essays every week on the basis of reading lists that would make Oxford University proud!

And since in this particular case there’s no university, I believe, in the UK that teaches any Austrian economics (despite either Hayek or von Mises being registered as the favourite 20th century economist by nearly a fifth of US economics faculty members polled recently), who is to say that any economics degree course in the UK is even “complete” in the sense of giving a rounded education in all the different “schools” of economic thought.  Why shouldn’t we be able to make up for what may be seen as, in this case, a national deficiency, by finding a body of Austrian economic experts clustered around one learned institution like Mises, to deliver us part of our degree courses?

If the post-9000 world means, as most universities want to portray, greater student involvement and influence, to give them a more tailored and broader experience, should that not also involve them being able to choose to make up for any perceived deficiencies in their course by choosing some parts of it from some of these non-standard providers?

Friedman’s “Adam Smith U” could really be just around the corner now, and I don’t believe that’s a scary thing: that means the academy having self-determination, being able to cluster together in whatever arrangements they feel best suit their research activities and so on, and being able to disseminate their new knowledge to a far wider ranger of students.  Not “outsourcing” so much as putting more autonomy and independence into the hands of students and the academy itself and away from the corporate bodies of the current university system.

It might mean reinventing the role of the central degree awarding body, the university itself, perhaps as somewhere that provides just one residential year of foundation study skills and liberal arts education before becoming personal study guides to more offsite students, accompanying them through a far wider range of externally provided modules, as sponsors and research centres for fewer but bigger specialisms and so on, but again, one might hold out the prospect of them reaching far more people, far less expensively, and bringing more people into Higher Education than even up till now (and grabbing a bigger slice of the enormous potential market in developing countries for more flexible, lower cost, ways of gaining university education).

{ 12 comments }

Jock Coats June 4, 2011 at 10:12 am

There are things I would add that would be inappropriate for my own blog where my colleagues are more likely to find and react to my criticism.

1. I find the Mises Academy system *more* congenial to learning. There may be a hundred people in the lecture, but the lecturer is right in front of me at all times (I have no pillar in front of me), the volume is at my preferred level wherever I am sitting (and I am sitting is as comfortable a seat as I like). I can smoke, keep a mug of coffee to hand (or a beer), and in the chat window I can get explanations from the brightest people in the class, who might be the other side of a traditional lecture theatre and not wanting to talk. And I do not have to experience 100- different flavours of aftershave :-)

2. “Traditional” academics are going to be difficult to persuade/convert to this until/unless really threatened by the competition. It is difficult enough to get them to put a reading list online, let alone a reading list I can download for free. I know institutions in which some people have wanted to put materials online, including lectures on iTunes but have been stuck for two years discussing intellectual property issues. Clearly the big institutions, like Oxbridge and Ivy League institutions (who produce more original IP-able material that would be of much interest to a wider audience) have already got round this issue.

3. Projects like the Commonwealth of Learning aim to bring low cost Higher Education to poorer countries in the (British Commonwealth). If they succeed, and much of it will likely be online anyway, how could one prevent “traditional first world” students also taking advantage of these innovations?

Stephan Kinsella June 4, 2011 at 10:16 am

Great comments and elaborations, Jock; thanks. Re 1, I agree: there are pluses and minuses of course to any alternative; but there are lots of pluses and minor negatives.

Re 2 — sure the traditional universities will resist this, but competition will force change, I believe–if a given college experiments with permitting some of this outside credit then they will draw more students, and most other colleges will be forced to join in, eventually.

Re 3 — yes, another fascinating project, and good point.

Jock Coats June 4, 2011 at 10:52 am

Interesting thing too about the Commonwealth of Learning’s “Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth” (VUSSC) project is that in the process it appears they are focussing on subjects of practical benefit (they mention “skills-related post-secondary courses in areas such as tourism, entrepreneurship, professional development, disaster management and a range of technical and vocational subjects”) rather than what the state and public intellectuals think would be good for obedient citizens to learn or on credentialising traditionally non-degree based jobs.

Dick Fox June 5, 2011 at 7:41 am

Sadly, we have to understand that higher educational institutions are not about learning. Higher educational institutions are about selling documents that help people get jobs. The mainstream education institutions have figured this out and work harder to convince people and businesses that a pice of paper from their institution is better documentation than one from another. This usually involves some kind of expression of enlightening students to “social” problems.

There are two sides to the education scandal. The educational administrators trying to sell their paper and businesses trying to sell the public on their level of certification.

The only way the education system will change is if the new form of education proves that it creates better workers and entrepreneurs than the old system and it is going to have to do this overwhelmingly.

But this is not impossible. Once of the greatest examples of this is Full Sail University founded in 1979 as a “trade” school. Full Sail saw an education weakness and filled the need. It became successful not because of its degrees but because of its real education. But as is so often the case, in 2007 Full Sail joined the world of education diploma mills and begin to offer degrees. Now rather than selling talent and knowledge the students from Full Sail can sell a piece of paper.

The reality is that education has two purposes, 1. to employe teachers and 2. to sell diplomas. The education institutions of today do not have a long history but they will remain as they are until there is a proven alternative not to employing teachers and selling diplomas, but to making a difference in the lives of people.

nate-m June 5, 2011 at 7:57 am

Sadly, we have to understand that higher educational institutions are not about learning. Higher educational institutions are about selling documents that help people get jobs. The mainstream education institutions have figured this out and work harder to convince people and businesses that a pice of paper from their institution is better documentation than one from another. This usually involves some kind of expression of enlightening students to “social” problems.

Ha. It’s worse then you think. The ‘mainstream’ universities are self-service just like the rest of humanity is. They couldn’t give a shit if students make it in the real world after getting a degree.

What the schools care about is getting paid. They don’t care how that happens and are quite happy to take advantage of naive individuals just out of high school who have been lied to their entire lives about the value of a education…. by educators.

Jock Coats June 5, 2011 at 8:49 am

There are people, hundreds of millions of them, who have not been lied to about the value of education, because they have never had any education. So, for instance, my point about the VUSSC, applies – if the “first world” wakes up and sees that “third world” educators are teaching practical things rather than 300 year old good citizenship schemes, we might be the ones playing catch up before too long.

The UK position on fees is an interesting reference point. Thirty years ago many of the jobs for which people are now told they need a degree were taught on the job and the costs borne by the employers and employees qua employees. Then they were conveniently externalised to the state in the form of free at the point of access higher education. Now the state can’t afford that it is externalised once again this time right onto the students themselves.

There must be a chance that some will realise that they are being sold a lemon and look around for more cost effective methods to get the knowledge and skills they feel they want.

slim934 June 5, 2011 at 10:14 am

We should also not forget about the Open Course initiative at MIT or the vastly more interesting project occurring in the Open Learning Initiative at CMU. On a textbook note we also have FlatWorldKnowledge as well as a few other up and comers into this area.

These firms are nailing the holes in the coffin of the old order. And we shall be vastly more wealthy because of it.

Dick Fox June 5, 2011 at 11:46 am

Slim,

Can you name one job or one entrepreneural success that has come from such open courses?

Jock Coats June 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm

The whole point of my article above though is that these are at a small scale at the moment. They have yet to prove themselves. Lots of institutions are making their materials “Open Educational Resources” but people still have to pick those up and deliver courses based on them, get the accredited where appropriate and so on.

IMO the first step in realising “Adam Smith U” is to get some existing institutions to agree that their students can take some of these new delivery mechanism courses as part of their degree as Friedman suggested forty years ago. The big fee hike is just about to hit the UK. I for one, when I am doing my Economics and Politics courses will want to know why I am paying £9,000 a year in fees and not getting a fully rounded economic education because nobody speaks Austrian :-) If UK universities want to justify their tripled headline fees on the basis that they are offering a three times better student experience, that had better involve more of a say is what and how we learn.

Abhilash Nambiar June 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

I have been wondering for some time now, why Hoppe himself cannot take the course on ‘The Social theory of Hoppe.’ Given that the good man has still not past his prime, is it not best that his ideas come pure and unadulterated straight from him?

Stephan Kinsella June 6, 2011 at 8:31 am

Obviously, he is not interested in doing this. Given that, I volunteered. I remain mystified why people have a problem with any of this. Hoppe has no obligation to teach a Mises Academy course. And what is wrong with me volunteering to do so? Sure, it would be *better* if Hoppe would teach it. But that’s not what’s offered. It’s a course on Hoppe’s thought, taught by me. Take it or leave it.

Abhilash Nambiar June 6, 2011 at 10:09 am

Fair enough. But there is nothing to be mystified about. The question easily arises.

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