Anna Valero, John Van Reenen, 10 November 2016

Growth in higher education has been driven by the view that human capital is essential for economic and social progress. This column uses a comprehensive international dataset covering 78 countries to show that on average, a 10% increase in the number of universities (roughly adding one more university to the average region in the data) increases a region’s income by 0.4%, with additional effects spilling over to other regions within the same country. In the UK context, the benefits of university expansion are likely to far outweigh the costs.

Gianni De Fraja, Giovanni Facchini, John Gathergood, 03 August 2016

The positive relationship between wages and firm performance is well established in the literature, but much less is known about the relationship in the university context. This column addresses this gap by matching professors' wages with departmental performance measures from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework. Across the full range of academic disciplines, departments that pay their professors more do appear to perform better. This is driven primarily by the relationship between salary and publications output, with no evidence of a positive relationship between salary and research impact.

Ian Fillmore, 04 March 2015

Colleges in the US charge high sticker prices but routinely offer discounts to individual students. This column presents research showing that colleges use a student’s federal aid form to learn about willingness-to-pay and to engage in substantial price discrimination in a way that amounts to a tax on income, with the primary effect of increasing tuition revenues. Nevertheless, the price discrimination also results in some redistribution to low-income students as well as a modest increase in student–college match quality.

David Chambers, Elroy Dimson, 20 October 2014

Yale University has generated annual returns of 13.9% over the last 20 years on its endowment – well in excess of the 9.2% average return on US university endowments. Keynes’ writings were a considerable influence on the investment philosophy of David Swensen, Yale’s CIO. This column traces how Keynes’ experiences managing his Cambridge college endowment influenced his ideas, and sheds light on how some of the lessons he learnt are still relevant to endowments and foundations today.

Graziella Bertocchi, Alfonso Gambardella, Tullio Jappelli, Carmela Nappi, Franco Peracchi, 28 July 2014

Assessing the quality of academic research is important – particularly in countries where universities receive most of their funding from the government. This column presents evidence from an Italian research assessment exercise. Bibliometric analysis – based on the journal in which a paper was published and its number of citations – produced very similar evaluations of research quality to informed peer review. Since bibliometric analysis is less costly, it can be used to monitor research on a more continuous basis and to predict the outcome of future peer-reviewed assessments.

Paula Stephan, 20 March 2014

US universities resemble high-end shopping malls. They use nice buildings and good reputations to attract good students and good faculty. To pay for this, external funding – once viewed as a luxury – is a necessary condition for tenure and promotion. This column argues that this model emerged at the initiative of universities not the federal government. Today’s stress is the harvest of what universities and faculty sowed in the 1950s and the 1960s.

Amanda Goodall, John McDowell, Larry Singell, 31 January 2014

Much of human knowledge is produced in the world’s university departments, yet little is known about how these hundreds of thousands of departments are best organised and led. This column explores the association between the personal research output of a department head and the department’s subsequent performance. Results suggest that if a department wants to improve its reputation in the world, then the chair should be a highly cited researcher.

John McCormack, Carol Propper, Sarah Smith, 07 November 2013

The conventional wisdom is that managing academics is futile. This column challenges this view by comparing management performance in UK universities with measures of research and teaching quality. Universities with better management have better performance. This holds for all types of universities, and the results are not driven by differences in resources. Recruitment, retention, and promotion are the most important aspects of management in universities, but management at the level of academic departments – not human resources departments – is what matters.

Manuel Bagues, Natalia Zinovyeva, 16 September 2012

To reduce favouritism in university promotions, Spain recently introduced a centralised system with random assignment of evaluators. This column presents evidence from a unique data set showing that favouritism still matters. Prior connections between candidates and evaluators have a dramatic impact on promotion. The net result is that outcomes are more random and candidates with many connections and from large universities benefit the most.

Ronald Ehrenberg, 25 January 2010

Will having more women on the board of trustees at academic institutions increase the number of women in the faculty? This column presents evidence suggesting that if a board is one-quarter women, it reaches the critical mass needed to hasten gender diversity.

Amanda Goodall, 02 January 2010

The best US universities outperform their European counterparts. This column says part of the gap is due to how universities choose leaders. Outstanding scholars are more likely to be selected as presidents in the top US universities, a move that is associated with improved research performance.

Annamaria Conti , Patrick Gaulé, 30 July 2009

European universities produce high-quality scientific research, but they licence it to industry far less than US universities. This column introduces new survey evidence on university licensing and assesses the gap between the US and Europe. It highlights European universities’ shortcomings in generating technology transfer revenue, despite their desire to do so.