The Economics of Science and Teaching


Had a slightly daft conversation in the pub last night, covering science, industry and economics. As is inevitable from such a conversation, this failed to reach any big conclusions.

Thinking about it later, though, I’ve decided that research and teaching have fundamental economics. Thinking back into the past, my educational experiences have all been valuable to me; just not that valuable, at least not for a given piece of teaching. Teaching, then, seems to pay off, in that it’s for a given course you chances of getting some return are high, but the return is likely to be small: anything you learn you are going to use, just not that often.

Science and research in general are very different; most of the research done in the world, more or less by definition, comes to nothing at all. Some of it, however, pays off in a huge way. Occasionally, a small piece of research changes the world. So, the chances of getting a return are small, but the potential return is huge.

It’s odd that two such different activities have been combined in the education sector. From a practical point of view, the combination seems natural to me; my research provides the foundation to my teaching. But from an economic point of view, is the combination of the two sustainable?

Originally published on my old blog site.