Thursday, May 24, 2012

How universities helped transform the medieval world

We like to think that we have moved on from the Middle Ages, but do universities from that period have something to teach us about the role of government in education? This column thinks so.

How does a new form of knowledge enter the public sphere and what are the consequences for economic activity? Today, thousands of students are pursuing university degrees in biotechnologies and computer sciences in order to enter the high-tech labour force or to become entrepreneurs. Do the institutions that train them generate economic growth? What roles can governments play in establishing educational institutions and supporting investments in the new forms of human capital they produce?

These are not new issues: around 100 years ago, the modern American research university – often supported by public funds – was taking shape, training scientists and engineers who were employed in the burgeoning industries of the early 20th century (Goldin and Katz 1999). Perhaps surprisingly, by going even further back in history – all the way to medieval Europe – we can learn important lessons about the relationships among public policy, educational institutions, educational content, and economic development.

Click here to read this article from VOX