University at the Time of Star Wars

University at the Time of Star Wars


"A modern university must do high-quality research because higher education has a dual mission: to produce and disseminate knowledge," says the Rector of Bocconi University, Gianmario Verona. Faculty should therefore not only be good teachers, but also excellent researchers.
Yet some still struggle to see a strong link between research and what happens in the classroom of a university. What is this relationship?
The originality of knowledge is, by now, the most important source of competitive advantage in the market of higher education, because the world has changed. In 1977, before the Internet and globalization, the first episode of Star Wars came out in Italy five months after the United States. Since no one watched the films in the original language and the two markets did not communicate in any way, you could take all the time you needed to dub a film, wait to be sure it was successful at home and then launch it in other countries. And for some forms of knowledge, it was the same: universities could take their time to locate and rework knowledge produced elsewhere and still be competitive in their own market. In Italy today, Guerre Stellari has become Star Wars for everyone, hundreds of thousands of people are able to watch it in English and they can find it online a few hours after the release in the United States – so the latest episodes have been released simultaneously everywhere. The same thing can happen in the academic world: non-original knowledge has become a commodity, easily accessible via MOOCs (Massive open online courses) or a TED Talk.

And what did Bocconi do to adapt to these changes?
Bocconi has also changed over the years, and the process was triggered and accelerated by my predecessors through a well-designed incentive system. It rewards scholars who do quality research, and attracts talented young researchers by seeking them in the international job market, in direct competition with other great social science universities around the world.
Research funding awarded by the European Research Council on a competitive basis, internal incentives to those who do the best research, competition in the international job market for top talent. Why does the word competition appears so often when we talk about research?
The competitive component is critical because you have to allocate scarce economic resources as efficiently as possible. It is true that research in the social sciences does not need the highly expensive laboratories as does, for example, physics, but doing research still requires a significant investment even in the social sciences, especially if you want to meet the best standards. Today the methodology is much more sophisticated, and a credible description of reality requires expensive databases, which require time to be developed. You can see this by observing how much longer it takes to get a PhD, because of the time required to write a dissertation in line with the best academic papers. Until last year I followed this transformation as Dean of Human Resources and the choice of Bocconi has been not to compromise on quality: those who publish on international first-tier journals are rewarded.
Does Bocconi research focus on particular areas?
Like the European Research Council, we also reward quality research, not research on particular topics. But I do see a common interdepartmental thread – not a university specialization as such – in some of the areas where our status in the forefront is recognized. In a nutshell, I would speak of the design of organizations and institutions for innovation, growth and change. It is a formula that can be expressed in economic, managerial, social and legal terms. Businesses need to change and grow, as do institutions and countries, whether advanced or not, and they all need to find a setup that favors innovation. So, a large part of research at Bocconi is aimed at helping to better understand these changes.

Read here the other articles on the ERC research projects:

The Dream Team of Research made in..ERC
The Culture That Influences Demography
For a History of Inequality in Europe
Fostering Solidarity in Times of Migrations
A Theory of Games and Emotions
Why with Broadband We will have More Children
How to Communicate Climate Science
At the Birth of Maritime Insurance
Even Distorted Choices can be Rational
The Psychology of Economic Behavior
Great Expectations for Great Objectives
What we are Certain about Uncertainty
Putting a Halt to the Spread of Infections
Wellbeing and Fertility, a Two-Way Relationship
The Role of Financial Imperfections
The World Through the Lens of Power
The Selection of the Political Class
How to Evaluate Innovative Ideas
A Help for Those who make Predictions
When a Government is Guided by Values


by Fabio Todesco


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