Rationalizing University Education

Recent news of the Japanese government directing its public universities to stop offering social sciences and humanities courses raises some pretty important questions over the future of higher education in the age of fiscal deficits, automation, and e-learning ahead.

An entirely predictable debate followed, with skeptical conservatives (and I daresay most Unz readers) saying good riddance, and liberals screeching about how humanities are just as important as STEM for maintaining functional, civilized societies. Both make some good points but the largest issues, as always, seem to be systemically sidelined: Psychometrics, and to a lesser extent, the new possibilities opened up by technology.

(1) Here is the famous graphic produced by Linda Gottfredson. Probably only about 25% of the population can truly benefit from a university education, STEM or otherwise. All conversations must start from here.


(2) For the lower IQ segments who like sciency stuff, “hands on” or apprenticeships are best. Germany has a very well developed system in this respect, with the result that a very large percentage of its workforce (relative to other First World countries) continues to find gainful employment in its manufacturing industries.

(3) I do think that Humanities and Social Sciences subjects can be quite useful, not least to inform and deepen work in STEM subjects themselves (e.g. gene-culture evolution)! And specialists in Economics, Linguistics, and various foreign cultures, etc. are very important for any state. But to achieve true competence in any of these areas you really need first rate human capital. There are greatly diminishing returns to funding proper university study of any of these subjects on as far as <115 IQ people are concerned.

But the benefits of studying any of these subjects extend beyond the merely functional, economic sense. A society in which even a plumber could venture some cogent thoughts on the collapse of the Roman Empire or the relative merits of Hobbes vs. Locke is a better and more cultured society and that has value of its own. Today there are plenty of online learning resources (e.g. Coursera, Udemy, etc) that they could be encouraged to take advantage of and even subsidized to do because ultimately they are only a tiny fraction of the cost of conventional university educations and will have little effect on the budget.

(4) Then there are the “fluff” subjects, like Anthropology, Sociology, African-American Studies, Women’s Studies, etc. Generally speaking, they are hopelessly politicized and produce negative value added, an unholy mixture of Marxist and postmodernist dreck. Some can and must be salvaged, while only the most overtly unscientific and grievance-based should be abolished entirely (e.g. African-American Studies, Women’s Studies). This “purging” process could be organized in the elite universities, and then once cleaned up should be left free to roll back into the middling universities alongside the H&SS group.

(5) Here is a summary:

Current Situation STEM H&SS Fluff
Elite Universities (IQ >120)  Y  Y  Y
Middling Universities (IQ 105-120)  Y  Y  X
Polytechs/Community Colleges (IQ 90-105)  Apprenticeships  Online  X
No tertiary education (IQ <90)  “Hands On”  Online  X

(6) There is a lot of specifically American angst over subsidized or free university funding, which is standard in Europe.

But it actually makes a lot of sense from both progressive and “reactionary” perspectives.

From the progressive perspective, having more human capital and more culture is good. There will be more of it if higher education is subsidized.

From the “reactionary” perspective, you want higher IQ people starting families at earlier ages and having more children. This is difficult to do if you’re saddled with student debts. Subsidizing university education will remove that problem.

Of course, subsidized education can be quite expensive. (Though nowhere near as expensive as modern healthcare or even pointless wars in the Middle East). But remember that I am suggesting limiting university educations to the top 25% of the population or so. The “STEM-orientated” people who are below that threshold will generally be better served by getting apprenticeships or hands on training (cheaper), while “H&SS-orientated” people now have the option of satiating their curiosity through online learning (MUCH cheaper). Ultimately I am not a ruthless conservative, I believe society should fund people to achieve their full potential. It’s just that this funding isn’t very well distributed now.

It is my impression that universities are becoming fossils in general, being made obsolete by technological advances and only clinging on because getting a paper degree still remains social convention. To be very frank, I am not even sure that the sort of things being taught in most undergraduate courses still needs to be done at brick and mortar establishments. Most humanities and social science courses consist of lectures for crying out loud. Just get some charismatic professor – he doesn’t even have to be the best in his field – to produce lectures with the requisite materials and post is on the Internet (for some people who prefer textual to in-person learning this reliance on lectures is actually harmful). The only thing that actually needs to be funded fully is exam-taking for certification purposes.

But barring truly radical changes, I think the previous suggestions would still be of general social benefit.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. the problem with humanities that they do not only often teach things that might be right or wrong, or things that are obviously wrong, or things that are irrelevant but also the vast majority of the students simply does not work at all. I have studied both social sciences as well as maths. I would say that 99% of the social science students did not study as many hours weekly as any math students who survived up to the second semester just had to do.

  2. yeah, this seems right. I am studying engineering, and my brother is studying a softer subject. He often gives me flak for spending so many hours studying, but it’s simply not possible to understand the content without putting in hours and hours of effort. People call me a nerd for doing all of the odd-numbered questions at the end of each chapter, but that is literally the only way to actually learn the content.

  3. Off-topic: Anatoly, are you familiar with the book by David Remnick, “Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire”?

    Would you recommend it to someone looking to learn more about the history of the Soviet Union, or is it a mostly flawed, Russia-bashing work?

  4. I studied Literature and went on to a career in IT as a programmer / consultant. This was perhaps a waste of money for the Portuguese Republic, although I don’t regret my personal investment. A Computer Science degree would have eased my entry into the job market back then, but 20 years later it does not make any difference.

    I think it is important to study something at a high level, but once you have mastered learning you can go on to any subject.

    No one should be discouraged from any subject, it is not the role of the State to choose a career path for each citizen. I do agree that some courses are just too easy and shallow. You won’t get any benefit without hard work and challenging subject matter.

  5. I don’t care what people study so long as they can pay for their studies. If a million people study mass communications, don’t get a job, and end up defaulting on their student loans and, perhaps even go on welfare, I have a problem with that.

  6. Lion of the Judah-sphere says

    Great article, touches on some things that been thinking about in the past few years. To make a long story short, I’ve received a Bachelor’s and a Master’s, both in social sciences, have worked both in the private and public sector, and I’m trying to get funding together to go back to school. I regret majoring in the field I majored in, because I have a sibling and friends that majored in STEM and they’re all making much more money than I am.

    With that said, once you control for IQ, I’m not sure how much it matters what you majored in. Also, I remember seeing a graph (I wish I could find it again) that showed in STEM majors, there was very little change in ROI based on school ranking, but in humanities majors the differences in ROI based on school ranking was significant. Student attending the bottom half of schools for humanities receive a negative return on investment

    But I think at the end of the day, the education system is already set up so that most people eventually drift towards the majors/schools/vocations that are best for them and receive the optimal income that their ability level allows. We might be able to streamline it a little better but most people end up with their just lot in life.

    And yes, there’s probably no good reason why people with IQs below 105 or even 110 should be in a 4-year university. Those in this range have neither the aptitude or desire to engage in the critical thinking college requires. Vocation or online education might be better for this range.

  7. Would you recommend it to someone looking to learn more about the history of the Soviet Union, or is it a mostly flawed, Russia-bashing work?

    US “intellectual” elites, with some rare exceptions, not only DO NOT know Soviet history, but are afraid, like vampires of garlic, of studying it. This is not to say that Soviet history is all “fun and games”–no, there is a lot of horror in it. But until US “elites” face their worst nightmare, that US drew a lucky lottery ticket at 1941, we will continue to discuss Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn, while what REALLY matters will remain beyond the grasp of all those Ivy League Russia “scholars” akin to Michael McFaul –the author of famous Overload button snafu (he is considered to be a Russian “scholar”). US history as a superpower starts in 1941–it is a start of the singularity (that is why I always read Spengler with a smile–you know, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”), which in North America hasn’t been explained yet, that is why such a love for Solzhenitsyn. There is NO Soviet (Russian) history without Continental Warfare, period. You start to study this warfare–US “exceptionalism” is blown out of the water, you can extrapolate the rest……

  8. yeah, this seems right. I am studying engineering,

    Theoretical Mechanics or Differential Equations, among many, are on the order of magnitude more difficult subjects than ANYTHING “humanities” education can offer. Then, of course, come applied subjects and it is there that I often hear..but I graduated Ivy league, sure! My answer is always the same–get Haliday and Resnick any edition of Physics (Giancoli will do too) and start solving problems;-) Issue of Fractional Exchange Rates and Salvo Equations could be left for later….

  9. We don’t have to ban humanities. The key lies in offering progressively higher barriers after grade school (e.g. tests at 16, 18 and 20 — standard high school should end at the age of 16), and incentives for those going into trades. Combining incentives to those willing to forego the full 4-year degree with some prestige to those able to attain it would have a social leveling effect. This winner-take-all system is an outgrowth of blank slatism, which suggests that failure is simply because you aren’t trying hard enough. The so-called meritocracy is really a swindle. Instead, we could remove the stigma from the trades while restoring some gravitas to higher education.

    Lower ability kids could finish school and get an apprenticeship at the age of 18, middle of the pack at 20, and higher ability types perhaps 22-24 depending on specialization. Of course continuing education would be a part of this. It isn’t as though an 18yo plumber apprentice or 30yo doctor would never again need to learn anything in the future.

    But this is all “academic” at this point, and that’s a big part of the problem. We have to stop letting people who make a living selling university degrees (education lobby) determine national policy. Obviously there’s a conflict of interest there.

  10. Lion of the Judah-sphere says

    I wanted to clarify my 2nd paragraph in my first post (not that anyone will see it at this point):

    People in different majors differ significantly in their salaries(particularly STEM vs. humanities), but that’s mostly a function of the IQ of the students, because STEM tends to attract smarter people. Of course, this contradicts what my namesake believes, but I’m pretty confident that I’m correct!

  11. It’s more about un-doing the shinto directive.