Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Of Public Education, LSE

So, I started class on Monday… And, wow, was I in for a surprise.

The students at LSE’s summer school program…

“Generally, around two-thirds of applications come from full-time undergraduate students. The remaining third is made up of postgraduate and research students, and professionals from a wide variety of institutions and businesses” (Entry Requirements London School of Economics and Political Science).

When I walked into class on Monday, the page couldn’t be more wrong if it was describing just this class. I would guess that about half of the students are working professionals, if not more, and perhaps another quarter would be graduate students. If you look at it from an age perspective, I’d guess that with my twenty-seven years I’d be right around the middle or median. Nonetheless, unfortunately, for these working professionals (and perhaps for even some graduate students), just the fact that they have temporarily left the work force and are in effect re-entry students puts them at a huge disadvantage and will simply be – in my opinion – outgunned and outclassed.

Despite what many may say about the state of public institutions of higher learning, such as, the University of California, Berkeley, I took my intermediate economic theory courses from Professor J. Bradford DeLong and Associate Professor Stefano DellaVigna at Berkeley and I believe this puts me at a huge advantage. I feel, for the first time, in a very, very long time that I am very well prepared (those feelings about me taking multivariate calculus in 2001 have reversed itself).

You see, in those classes, we very thoroughly studied constrained optimization and particularly in Professor DellaVigna’s course, we even dealt with two different types of intertemporal optimization or optimization between differing time periods (which is exactly what the first couple problems we are studying are about …spend money now or save and spend it later… in the Money in Utility Function Models). But, most importantly, the professors at Berkeley didn’t leave out the math and almost all analysis on problem sets, midterms, and final exams were of the kind where students had to mathematically derive a model under certain assumptions and then see what happens in equilibrium.

At LSE, it is no different. The students here that are not familiar with these problems will I believe not be able to catch up in time for the first exam as the first exam is exactly a week away and the course itself is only three weeks long. When LSE says these courses are “intensive,” believe it.

Well, it’s not just working professionals you see. Tuesday was the first day discussion/seminar sections were held. There was this one American student that kept asking questions and who later said, “He studied all these things, but in the United States we don’t do derivatives.” While I did ask him what school he was from though (a small private school), but uncharacteristically, I didn’t say anything; I did start working on two thank you emails to the Professors at Berkeley though.

On a different note, if examined on an ethnic and racial basis, then I would say the course is very diverse – But, of course, for this statement to be true, you would have to first assume that the one and a half billion people living in Northeast Asia don’t exist (that is there are no Chinese, Koreans, or Japanese).

On the class roster, I recognized zero, that’s right, zero Korean surnames, and, perhaps, three Chinese surnames with no potential of any of them being Korean (*ahem* except for mine of course). I also recognized one Japanese surname, but that’s the professor’s.

This is going to be an interesting couple weeks and I’m so curious as to the type of backgrounds that some of these students have. I also briefly spoke with a graduate student from the University of Naples and a Danish lady (isn’t a Danish a type of cake with frosting on top?) in her mid thirties, I’m guessing, who thought the course would help her find a better job.
At any rate, public universities do need massive assistance and I believe this is something that will need to find a solution for universities, such as a UC Berkeley to remain competitive with private universities.

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