Last week, during the opening of the current academic year, our Rector, Ferran Sancho, explained that the University of California at Berkeley, roughly the same size as UAB in students and staff, has a budget of 300 million euros –ours is 30 (and fast diminishing). Since then the sing-song ‘ten times more money’ has taken up residence in my brain, colouring all I do, so here are a few examples of what having 30 instead of 300 millions means.

First, though, I’ll note that, according to the ‘Academic Ranking of World Universities’ (https://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2013.html), UC at Berkeley occupies position number 3, UAB position 201. The top ten positions for 2013 are: Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, Cambridge, Cal Tech, Princeton, Columbia, Chicago and Oxford. Rector Sancho mentioned Berkeley because, let’s remember this, it’s a public, state-funded university –actually, the best one in the world according to this ranking.

The criteria used to assess universities considers (I’m citing from https://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2013/08/19/berkeley-moves-up-to-third-in-arwus-2013-global-rankings/): quality of education (10%), quality of faculty (40%), research output (40%), and per capita academic performance (10%). These factors include: “Nobel Prize and Fields Medal winners among faculty and alumni weighted by decade received, highly cited researchers from 21 subject areas, the number of papers in Nature and Science published between 2008 and 2012, the number of papers indexed in Science Citation and Social Science Citation in 2012.” Harvard scored 100/100, Berkeley just a modest 71.3. There are no scores for universities below number one hundred (University of Freiburg, 24.3). If Berkeley is a B, then UAB is an E, or less. Nice…

Please, note: The ranking does not take into account funding under the heading ‘per capita academic performance.’

If funding were taken into account the ranking would reveal that totally underfunded universities have amazing productivity ratios (the best ones might well be in Africa!). If, say, Berkeley has 2,000 staff (I have no idea, really) and so does UAB, it turns out that each of its members of staff has access to resources worth 150,000 euros, whereas in UAB’s case that would be down to 15,000. I have no idea, either, how many articles a year a Berkeley researcher publishes, but suppose the number is 6 and suppose that a UAB colleague manages this astonishing feat. The cost of the UAB colleague article would be 2,500; the cost of the Berkeley article 25,000. Do you follow me? And I’m only speaking of research.

Now, if my school and Department had ten times more money, then:
1. I wouldn’t have 68 students in my second year class
2. I wouldn’t have to teach four subjects every academic year, two of them with that number of students
3. the supervision of BA, MA and PhD dissertations could be an actual part of our teaching load, as we’d have more teachers (including teaching assistants)
4. we wouldn’t have to put up with the appalling heat in the classrooms, nor share offices
5. we’d have money for scholarships, for students at all levels, and so promote excellence
6. we would be able to buy ten times more books for the library and subscribe to ten times more journals
7. we wouldn’t have to waste our research time in so much admin work (this is what more admin personal would do for us)
8. we’d have teaching and research assistants for each senior researcher
9. we’d travel to two or three conferences anywhere in the world a year
10. we’d have more time to THINK and produce the quality work that is quoted all over the world and appears in the famous impact indexes

I’m stopping at 10, just to continue the game around the ‘ten times more’ concept. I don’t think that at any Berkeley Department they’re checking which phones numbers might be disconnected to save money, as we’re doing. Etcetera.

If a Berkeley colleague is reading me I’m sure s/he’ll be annoyed: they do work hard there, and money is not just enough to win Nobel prizes, publish in Nature, make it to the top of the impact indexes. Yes, I know: but money makes talent flourish, whether local or imported. And this is it.

Now, ladies and gentlemen of the future independent Government of Catalonia: why don’t you send a delegation to California and see how they have managed to put Berkeley at the top of the world universities with PUBLIC money? Then you’d have my vote…

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  1. Yes, I assume you’re right. I understand that California is a very rich state and that whether Spain or Catalonia we have to make do with whatever few resources we have. Yet, this terrible policy regarding public education is suicidal. In Scotland, by the way, which is much closer to independence, Scottish residents do not pay university fees. I call that intelligent…

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