Escaping the mediocrity, sometimes unfathomable bureaucracy, and a general lack of opportunities in their home countries, many European economists have stayed in the US after pursuing a degree.
This is not exactly shocking news. But it reminds me of my own. So allow me to indulge for a minute.
While in university, some of my friends went on exchange, and many to Europe. While getting B-ish grades in our own universities, many came back with A+ from schools in Europe while maintaining a party schedule the rest of us could only dream of.
Not too long ago, I myself spent some time at a European university for a master’s degree. Now watching my boyfriend also pursuing a master’s degree from the same reputable university, I can say from first-hand experience: There-Are-No-Standards.
First off, many universities in Europe have no entrance cut-offs. That means, with the right preceding degree – which was also given to students that studied with no real entrance requirements, you are stuck in a classroom with the lowest dominator. Having a “tolerant” education system also means assignments can be handed in late, exams can be taken and re-taken, an atmosphere of genuine lacklustre-ness prevails.
Adding to the lack of uninspired classroom interactions, the hierarchical structure on the other end of the podium is also unfathomable. Unlike the tenured and untenured tracks in the North American system, complete with resident RAs that mark assignments and hold the occasional seminars, the entire supporting arm of this higher education branch is missing!
Contrasting my lonely graduate student life with those that pursued their graduate careers in Canada – with their own office space, more-or-less guaranteed research assistant positions, access to professors and conferences, and a structured graduate-student social life, my deal was truly crap.
So I buy the story when it says:
Many of the Europeans first came to the U.S. as graduate students, frustrated by the limited options offered by European universities. … Getting a doctorate in her native Belgium was unappealing, … because students were left on their own, with little academic support or oversight; many Ph.D. candidates she knew became discouraged after a few years and gave up. In the U.S., by contrast, the university was geared toward the student. Professors were approachable; research facilities, including libraries, were first-rate; and financial and other assistance was readily available.
I also buy the argument that subjects such as economics, treated as a scientific pursuit in North America, is still subject to political and philosophical whims when presented in Europe. I once sat in an advanced political economy class, where mercantilism was offered as a viable alternative to the current global economic system.
Obsolete and disproved Marxist and socialist thinking also remained strong within European universities, including in economics departments. Many young economists, scientifically oriented and so recognizing the superiority of free markets, found the climate intellectually stultifying. It remains the case that most French and Italian universities teach economics as a philosophical subject—with opinions mattering as much as facts—not a scientific subject. A Keynesian, statist perspective still dominates most European curricula: free-market professors are an embattled minority.
I can’t help but think that much of what goes on in those supposed intellectual hot-beds called universities, particularly in Europe, because of its relatively low level of diversity when it comes to political ideologies and economic preferences, tend to be self-selective. Therefore, the Keynesians and statist school will always dominate, no matter the timing. And those that want alternatives have no choices but to leave.