Paul Graham just published a new essay on Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas in which he discusses a number of area that appear ripe for disruption by startups. One of the areas he mentioned was the university system:
Replace Universities. People are all over this idea lately, and I think they’re onto something. I’m reluctant to suggest that an institution that’s been around for a millennium is finished just because of some mistakes they made in the last few decades, but certainly in the last few decades US universities seem to have been headed down the wrong path. One could do a lot better for a lot less money.
The essay has sparked a lot of commentary and debate over on Hacker News, including the following comment by me (view on Hacker News):
I totally agree regarding the decline of universities. In particular I think the research side will be the first to shift away from universities; at least with education you are essentially paying for a brand name which has inherent value. With research, the principle investigator writes the grant to pay their own salary, the salaries of their graduate students and postdocs, and their equipment. The university then takes almost all the scientists IP and charges “indirect costs” equivalent to more than 50% of the grant to supply “Facilities and Administration” – which is what exactly? Lights, building space, and a whole lot of bureaucracy.
Already, some really innovative initiatives are getting around this problem. The Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative offers lab space and equipment for ~$1,000 per month (no contract required!) and the EMBARK program administers scientists grants and encourages them to outsource experiments to core facility specialists (while providing access to a basic shared lab for those experiments that can’t be easily outsourced). Both initiatives offer ways for scientists to avoid high indirect costs and burdensome admin – and importantly the scientists retain 100% of their IP!
These initiatives are the way of the future – it’s hard to see how big, inefficient universities will be able to attract the top talent for much longer.
I’d be interested in your thoughts about the future of universities… if you’d like to join the debate leave a comment over on the Hacker News thread.
[about_box image=”http://thebenchapp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Elizabeth-80.png”]Elizabeth Iorns is Co-Founder & CEO of Science Exchange. Elizabeth conceived the idea for Science Exchange while an Assistant Professor at the University of Miami and as CEO she drives the company’s vision, strategy and growth. She is passionate about creating a new way to foster scientific collaboration that will break down existing silos, democratize access to scientific expertise and accelerate the speed of scientific discovery. Elizabeth has a B.S. in Biomedical Science from the University of Auckland, a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and conducted postdoctoral research in Cancer Biology from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine where her research focused on identifying mechanisms of breast cancer development and progression.[/about_box]