Friday, November 09, 2012

Coalition of Thinkers Vow to Fight Marketisation of Universities

"Lord Bragg, Alan Bennett, Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins are among 65 writers, broadcasters and thinkers who have jointly founded the Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU), to be launched next week.

The group's manifesto, also backed by former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Booker prize-winner Dame AS Byatt, playwright Michael Frayn and astronomer royal Lord Rees, claims the basis of a degree is under threat.

Writing in the Times Higher Education supplement, historian and former British Academy president Sir Keith Thomas said "the very purpose of the university" was being "grossly distorted by the attempt to create a market in higher education".

Students, he wrote were "regarded as 'consumers' and encouraged to invest in the degree course they think most likely to enhance their earning prospects".

Academics, he added, were now viewed as "producers, whose research is expected to focus on topics of commercial value and whose output is measured against a single scale and graded like sacks of wheat".

The organisation is expected to campaign for the abolition of government funding bodies and propose a move to fully independent grant councils free from political interference."

Read the rest of this Guardian (November, 8) article here.

Comment:  There is no absolute value-free place inside of higher education but the expectation should be that the pursuit of ideas cannot be contaminated by political interests and market capitalization.

That expectation is absolutely thwarted by what has happened to the academy in the US/UK and just about everywhere the so-called entrepreneur spirit coupled with government interference has raised its ugly head.

The student-academic relationship is no longer the center of the university.  Managers are.  These folks decide the value of students and the role of academics in the classroom and in research.

More often than not managers are nothing but middle persons in the business of relaying government policies and market interests into the university.

In recent decades this model of co-option has reduced the university to nothing more than a grocery store; it stocks and sells what it deems profitable in the market.

As a result we are witnessing the destruction of the academy as a place of critical learning and research.

Instead we have asses with doctorates in business and accounting joining other asses in public administration with titles that tell of the death of the pursuit of ideas.

A Ph.D. used to be a marker of a long journey in the philosophy of ideas.  In South Africa you can get a doctorate without ever attending a real university or sitting in a class of peers working through research methodologies or theory models.  

In some cases you can emerge with a doctorate in less than two years.  It took me 6 years of uninterrupted full-time study/research to finish my Ph.D. just in case you keeping score too. 

In South Africa you pay your tuition and you write some sh*t and your sole supervisor decides you a doctor of whatever.  It is a hopelessly worthless qualification that produces superficial and worthless doctorates.

In my time in higher education and the research environment in South Africa I have come across too many Ph.Ds who cannot write a coherent and thoughtful paragraph let alone a publishable peer-reviewed article.

All that matters is attaining the title for the purposes of prestige and income inflation. 

Across the board there has been a dumbing down of the university toward capitalization and the quality of qualifications are proof of the outcomes.

Preparing students for a life of pursuing ideas is not the purpose of the academy.

The business of the university now is the business of profit.  And profit requires pumping out products in keeping with spreadsheets that define a production mindset.

For the most part, if you looking for intellectuals you will be hard pressed to find them in-between the pie charts and balance sheet mentality of the capitalized academy.


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