经济学人双语版-缺勤的学生 The absent student

Covid-19 will be painful for universities, but it will also bring long-needed change

新冠肺炎会让大学头痛不已,但也会带来拖延已久的变革

 

IN THE NORMAL run of things, late summer sees airports in the emerging world fill with nervous 18-year-olds, jetting off to begin a new life in the rich world’s universities. The annual trek of more than 5m students is a triumph of globalisation. Students see the world; universities get a fresh batch of high-paying customers. Yet with flights grounded and borders closed, this migration is about to become the pandemic’s latest victim.

正常情况下,每年到了夏末,新兴国家的机场里就挤满了神情紧张的18岁年轻人,他们即将飞往富裕国家的大学校园,开始新生活。这场每年有500多万名学生参与的远行是全球化的一项重大成就。学生们见了世面;大学收获了新一批支付高额学费的客户。但是,如今航班停飞,边境关闭,这场大迁移即将成为新冠疫情最新的受害者。

For students, covid-19 is making life difficult. Many must choose between inconveniently timed seminars streamed into their parents’ living rooms and inconveniently deferring their studies until life is more normal. For universities, it is disastrous. They will not only lose huge chunks of revenue from foreign students but, because campus life spreads infection, they will have to transform the way they operate.

新冠肺炎让学生们日子不好过。许多人必须做出选择:要么克服时差带来的不便,在父母家的客厅里参加线上课程;要么承受学业推迟带来的麻烦,直到生活变得相对正常。对大学来说,新冠肺炎是一场灾难。它们不仅会失去来自留学生的巨额收入,而且因为校园生活容易扩散传染病,它们还将不得不改变自己的运行方式。

Yet the disaster may have an upside. For many years government subsidies and booming demand have allowed universities to resist changes that could benefit both students and society. They may not be able to do so for much longer.

不过,这场灾难可能也有其积极的一面。多年来,有赖于政府补贴和需求激增,大学一直抵触变化,而有些变化原本可能于学生和社会都有益。它们可能没法固执太久了。

Higher education has been thriving. Since 1995, as the notion spread from the rich world to the emerging one that a degree from a good institution was essential, the number of young people enrolling in higher education rose from 16% of the relevant age group to 38%. The results have been visible on swanky campuses throughout the Anglosphere, whose better universities have been the principal beneficiaries of the emerging world’s aspirations.

高等教育一直在蓬勃发展。自1995年以来,随着“好学校的文凭非常重要”这一观念从富裕国家传到新兴国家,上大学的年轻人占适龄人口的比例从16%上升到了38%。其结果很容易从英语国家众多时髦豪华的校园里看出来,而这些国家的名牌大学也成了新兴国家民众对教育的抱负的主要受益者。

Yet troubles are piling up. China has been a source of high-paying foreign students for Western universities, but relations between the West and China are souring. Students with ties to the army are to be banned from America.

但问题不断累积。中国一直是给西方大学带去高昂学费的留学生来源国,但如今中西方关系正在恶化。美国将禁止与军方有关联的学生入境。

Governments have been turning against universities, too. In an age when politics divides along educational lines, universities struggle to persuade some politicians of their merit. President Donald Trump attacks them for “Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education”. Some 59% of Republican voters have a negative view of colleges; just 18% of Democrats do. In Britain universities’ noisy opposition to Brexit has not helped. Given that the state pays for between a quarter and a half of tertiary education in America, Australia and Britain, through student loans and grants, the government’s enthusiasm matters.

政府也走到了大学的对立面。在当今这样一个政见因教育背景不同而分化的时代,大学很难让一些政客相信它们的价值所在。特朗普抨击大学“灌输激进的左翼思想,而不是从事教育”。大约59%的共和党选民对大学持负面态度,而在民主党选民中这一比例只有18%。在英国,大学吵吵嚷嚷反对脱欧,也不利于它们自身的处境。在美国、澳大利亚和英国,政府通过学生贷款和助学金支付了25%到50%的高等教育费用,因此政府重视与否至关重要。

Scepticism among politicians is not born only of spite. Governments invest in higher education to boost productivity by increasing human capital. But even as universities have boomed, productivity growth in the rich-country economies has fallen. Many politicians suspect that universities are not teaching the right subjects, and are producing more graduates than labour markets need. Small wonder that the state is beginning to pull back. In America government spending on universities has been flat in recent years; in Australia, even as the price of humanities degrees doubles, so it will fall for subjects the government deems good for growth.

政客们的疑虑不仅仅源于怨憎。政府投资高等教育,是要通过提升人力资本来提高生产率。但在富裕国家,一面是大学的蓬勃发展,一面却是生产率增长放缓。许多政客怀疑大学没有在传授正确的内容,培养出的毕业生数量又超出了劳动力市场的需求。难怪政府开始打退堂鼓。美国政府对大学的投入近年一直没有增长;在澳大利亚,人文学科的学费翻了一番,而那些政府认为有助于提高生产率的学科的学费还是会下降。

There are questions about the benefits to students, too. The graduate premium is healthy enough, on average, for a degree to be financially worthwhile, but not for everybody. In Britain the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has calculated that a fifth of graduates would be better off if they had never gone to university. In America four in ten students still do not graduate six years after starting their degree—and, for those who do, the wage premium is shrinking. Across the world as a whole, student enrolment continues to grow, but in America it declined by 8% in 2010-18.

上大学的好处也受到质疑。平均而言大学毕业生的薪资有足够多的溢价,让他们的文凭物有所值,但并非人人如此。英国财政研究所(以下简称IFS)估计,有五分之一的毕业生如果没去上大学,经济状况反倒会更好。在美国,四成大学生在入学六年后仍然没有毕业;而那些毕业了的学生的薪资溢价也在缩水。全球来看,大学入学人数持续增长。但在美国,2010年至2018年这一数字下降了8%。

Then came covid-19. Although recessions tend to boost demand for higher education, as poor job prospects spur people to seek qualifications, revenues may nevertheless fall. Government rules will combine with student nerves to keep numbers down. Last month the Trump administration said new foreign students would not be allowed to enter the country if their classes had moved online. Sydney, Melbourne, UNSW and Monash, four of Australia’s leading universities, rely on foreign students for a third of their income. The IFS expects losses at English universities to amount to over a quarter of one year’s revenues.

然后疫情来了。尽管经济衰退往往会推动对高等教育的需求,因为惨淡的就业前景会刺激人们追逐学历,但大学的收入仍可能下降。学生的不安加上政府的各种规定会拉低入学人数。特朗普政府在7月表示,如果新入学的留学生改成上网课,将不被准许进入美国。澳大利亚的四所顶尖大学——悉尼大学、墨尔本大学、新南威尔士大学和莫纳什大学——收入的三分之一来自留学生。IFS预计,英国大学将损失全年四分之一以上的收入。

The damage from covid-19 means that, in the short term at least, universities will be more dependent on governments than ever. The IFS reckons that 13 universities in Britain risk going bust. Governments ought to help colleges, but should favour institutions that provide good teaching and research or benefit their community. Those that satisfy none of those criteria should be allowed to go to the wall.

疫情造成的损害意味着,至少在短期内,大学将比以往任何时候都更依赖政府。IFS估计,英国有13所大学有破产风险。政府有责任帮助大学,但应该优先考虑那些教学和研究水平高或者让所在社区受益的院校。至于那些一条标准都不符合的大学,应该任由它们破产。

Those that survive must learn from the pandemic. Until now most of them, especially the ones at the top of the market, have resisted putting undergraduate courses online. That is not because remote teaching is necessarily bad—a third of graduate students were studying fully online last year—but because a three- or four-year degree on campus was universities’ and students’ idea of what an undergraduate education should look like. Demand for the services of universities was so intense that they had no need to change.

幸存下来的大学必须从疫情中吸取教训。直到现在,大多数大学,尤其是那些处于教育市场顶层的大学,都拒绝将本科课程放到网上。这并不是因为远程教学必定不好——去年有三分之一的研究生完全在网上上课——而是因为之前大学和学生都认为,本科教育就是应该在校园里学习三到四年。之前人们对高等教育的需求非常强烈,大学不需要做出改变。

Now change is being forced upon them. The College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College says that less than a quarter of American universities are likely to teach mostly or wholly in person next term. If that persists, it will reduce the demand. Many students buy the university experience not just to boost their earning capacity, but also to get away from their parents, make friends and find partners. But it should also cut costs, by giving students the option of living at home while studying.

而如今,大学正被倒逼着实施变革。戴维森学院(Davidson College)的“大学危机倡议”(College Crisis Initiative)指出,下学期,能全部或大部分进行当面授课的美国大学很可能不到四分之一。如果这种情况持续下去,上大学的需求就会减少。许多学生花钱上大学不单单是为了提高自己的挣钱能力,还为摆脱父母、结交朋友和寻找伴侣。但如果学生可以选择居家上大学,也应该能降低成本。

Back to the mortarboard

愿大学重抖擞

Covid-19 is catalysing innovation, too. The Big Ten Academic Alliance, a group of midwestern universities is offering many of its 600,000 students the opportunity to take online courses at other universities in the group. There is huge scope for using digital technology to improve education. Poor in-person lectures could be replaced by online ones from the best in the world, freeing up time for the small-group teaching which students value most.

疫情也在催生创新。由美国中西部大学组成的“十大学术联盟”(Big Ten Academic Alliance)为其60万学生中的许多人提供了在该联盟中其他大学上网课的机会。利用数字技术提高教育质量还大有可为。质量不佳的当面授课可能被世界顶尖的在线课程取代,从而为学生们最看重的小班教学腾出时间。

Universities are rightly proud of their centuries-old traditions, but their ancient pedigrees have too often been used as an excuse for resisting change. If covid-19 shakes them out of their complacency, some good may yet come from this disaster. ■

大学理应为自己悠久的传统自豪,但它们的古老传承也常常被用做拒绝变化的挡箭牌。如果新冠肺炎逼得它们无法再安于现状,这场灾难仍可能带来一些好处。

 

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