The very latest higher education idea: pay students to drop out
Here’s an interesting initiative: Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel is offering $100,000 each to 20 students willing to leave university for two years to start their own companies. And why do this, rather than offer the incentive to graduates? Because Mr Thiel believes that ‘ideas can develop in a start-up environment much faster than at a university’. Indeed he is reported to want to ‘question the idea of higher education’.
I won’t worry too much about Peter Thiel, who is a successful entrepreneur, but is also often described as a ‘libertarian’. However, the question must be asked whether he is encouraging student conduct that most academics would consider reprehensible. And is he right to suggest that innovation stalls in a university environment?
It is perfectly possible to argue that not everyone should go to university. However, once a student is there he or she will work with staff and students in a journey of discovery, and what they acquire is not so much a degree certificate as a capacity for critical inquiry and innovation. It is silly to suggest that a university education is somehow a bad idea for entrepreneurs. Right now an increasing number of start-ups trade in intellectual property and therefore rely on knowledge and scholarship for success.
Peter Thiel himself has two university degrees. He should be slow to suggest that dropping out is better – for anyone – than what he himself did in completing his education.