Title: In pursuit of excellence : essays on the organization of higher educationand research
Authors: Kelchtermans, Stijn
Issue Date: 13-Sep-2007
Abstract: This thesis consists of four empirical studies that analyze the higher education sector from its two main dimensions: education and research. The first two essays model the demand for higher education and simulate the effects of tuition fee increases and reductions in supply diversity on demand on general welfare. The final two essays analyze the productivity determinants of academic scientists, looking at both the star scientists and the lower tail of the distribution.

Essay 1 analyzes the determinants of participation (whether to study) and schooling (where and what to study) in a public system of higher education, based on a unique dataset of all eligible high school pupils in an essentially closed region (Flanders). We find that pupils perceive the available institutions and programs as close substitutes relative to the outside option, implying an ambiguous role for travel costs: they hardly affect the participation decision, but have a strong impact on the schooling decision.
To illustrate how our empirical results can inform the debate on reforming public systems, we assess the effects of tuition fee increases. Uniform cost-based tuition fee increases achieve most of the welfare gains; the additional gains from fee differentiation are relatively unimportant. These welfare gains are quite large under conservative assumptions on the social cost of public funds, and there is a substantial redistribution from students to outsiders.

Essay 2 studies the profit and welfare effects of reducing supply diversity, against the background of a funding system reform in Flanders (Belgium). We find that the social desirability of cutting programs at institutions is limited to less than 10% of the cases (first-year undergraduate education), due to the students' low willingness to travel and relatively limited variable and fixed cost savings. Furthermore, the originally proposed version of the new funding system would often miss its purpose. In general, it gives an incentive to cut the smaller programs. However, we find that for the programs where cuts are undesirable, the system nevertheless encourages to cut 30-60% of the cases. Furthermore, for the minority of cases where program cuts are actually desirable, we find it provides the wrong incentive for up to half of the cases. These findings emphasize the complexities in regulating the diversity of supply in higher education, and serve as a word of caution towards the various other measures to cut supply diversity that have recently been introduced.

Essay 3 contributes to the debate on cumulative advantage effects in academic research, by examining top performance in research productivity and its persistence over time, using a panel dataset comprising the publications of biomedical and exact scientists at the KU Leuven in the period 1992-2001. The data set allows taking into account factors like gender, age, cohort, rank, promotion, seniority, teaching load and access to research funding. About one quarter of the scientists in the sample achieve top performance at least once in the observation period, with six out of a hundred scientists being persistently top. Analyzing the selection and hazard to first and subsequent top performance, shows support for an accumulative process with rank, hierarchical position, access to funding and past performance as highly significant explanatory factors. Also gender is a consistent factor in explaining both top performance and its persistency.

Essay 4 uses a quantile regression approach to estimate the effects of age, gender, funding, teaching load and other observed characteristics of academic researchers on the full distribution of research output. We employ recent advances in quantile regression that allow its application to count data, i.e. numbers of publications and citations. We account for unobserved heterogeneity of researchers by estimating a random-effects model, exploiting the panel nature of our dataset. Estimation of the model for a panel of biomedical and exact scientists at the KU Leuven in the period 1992-2001 shows strong support for our quantile regression approach, revealing the differential impact of regressors along the distribution. We also find that variables like funding, teaching load and cohort have a different impact on research quantity than on research quality.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, Leuven
Department of Managerial Economics, Strategy and Innovation (MSI), Leuven
Research Center of Econometrics, Leuven
Research Centre for Globalization, Innovation and Competition, Campus Brussels (-)
Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) - miscellaneous

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