A surplus of intelligence?

I have been writing repeatedly about the general state of higher education, mainly because I believe that – cliché as it may sound – this gives us a glimpse of what the future will be like. Moreover, as a businessman engaged in the daily work for the global economy, I am interested in observing whether the academe is producing capable workers for all industries.

In my article Reassessing the value of the college degree (http://www.knutnylaende.com/reassessing-the- value-of- the-college- degree/), I touched on the issue of higher education inflation in most developed countries. This is the term used to refer to the continuously rising requirements for employment and how a college degree is not enough any longer to get a good job. This has led to a disturbingly increasing number of unemployed college graduates in countries such as the US. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I stumbled upon an article in The Economist from 2010 entitled The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time. It relates to how the PhD – the usual basic requirement for people who want to teach in the academe – has become a way for universities and higher education institutions to hire “lecturers” at a relatively lower cost (by letting PhD students teach instead of hiring full-time teachers). This, however, is only one of the rather disheartening issues raised by the article. It also says that most PhD students and graduates tend to be less satisfied and less productive in their jobs because of the extreme pressure they experience in school that doesn’t even really result in any advantage in the job market. As a matter of fact, the article says that “a PhD commands only a 3 % premium over a master’s degree”, which can be earned in a significantly shorter period of time.

The piece also touched on the issue of the impracticality and, in some ways, the uselessness of PhD students’ research and education. This aspect of the issue particularly struck me, because it shows how incredibly huge the disconnect is between the academic and the “practical” worlds. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to discount the legitimacy and credibility of the doctorate degree. I believe that research (academic research, for that matter) is one thing that we must never stop doing, and that continuous pursuit of knowledge is necessary for the advancement of human civilization. What I am most worried about, however, is the fact that the fruits of this research are often put to waste. Ultimately, therefore, the issue is perhaps not that the PhD has become useless, but that the world has failed to see its best potential for application.

What must we do then? Coming from the largely practical world of business, my perspective and approach would be to appeal to fellow businessmen and executives to be more open and welcoming to academic material. Research is an essential aspect of business, but most of us often confine this to the context of market or competitive research. The thing is, however, that hundreds of thousands of journals, papers and other academic treasures are published every year, and few businesses and corporations are making use of that knowledge to provide better solutions to the world.

Now then, – is there a surplus of intelligence? No, at least not if we start putting that intelligence to good use.

Knut Harald Nylænde is the Chief Executive of Moxie AS, a group of small but efficient investment firms based in Oslo. Knut often writes about current trends in entrepreneurship, education, and technology.