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Education is dead! Long live education! I am highly anticipating this documentary, should be released soon methinks, also, can I add; I ♥ Ken Robinson.
I’m currently on a sort of blogging-ban because I have such a monstrous amount of uni work to do this week. Very high goals have been set in terms of word count so I can’t really afford to waste any of them here. But, but, but. Today Lord Mandelson has stirred up debate with the announcement of a new Plan for Higher Education. So I will make an exception so that I can get these frustrations out of my system and then I’ll go back to my Dostoevsky, I promise.
The plan has not been released yet; this is all said in the true spirit of making a mountain out of a molehill, and in response to Mandelson’s appearance on BBC’s Today and the numerous agitated articles published shortly afterwards. Education policies are always interesting because they are about change, with the purpose to improve, but then in the end they only seem to increase the problems that already exist.
First off, I agree with Mandelson. I agree with everyone who thinks higher education needs to be improved. When he says that “universities are not islands, they are not ivory towers, they have to respond to the world around them” I think exactly, they are not, although they would very much like to think so. I often get the feeling that the university world is confined to its own little academic bubble, entirely disconnected to reality. But where Mandelson sees solutions, I see more trouble.
To label students as consumers sounds absolutely bonkers. Of course the more information students get about what to expect from their education, the better. But to demand a university to provide a prospective future is not making any sense to me. First of all, it would increase the idea that education is all about the result, not about the learning process. Secondly, what if a student can’t get the job he/she hoped for after completing a degree, or with the estimated salary. Are you supposed to hold you university responsible for false advertising? Of course there should be a strong feeling of responsibility towards the students to provide them with the best education possible. But not because they are paying customers, but because they are knowledge-seeking, enthused young people who, as the future of our society, deserves that investment. Why should you need money as a motivation to provide that?
I am glad they are addressing the lack of social ability in students. But you don’t increase social ability by teaching them to be demanding, picky and dissatisfied. That to me sounds like very destructive qualities for any person, student or no student. If you want to increase social ability you should infuse good work ethics, communication skills and adaptability. To make the university liable, not only for the quality of the teaching but also for the final outcome is a little bit misleading. Responsibility should be shared between the academic body and the students. Students should know their rights, but also their obligation. Students get away with so much these days, because universities are afraid of losing course fees, increasing drop-out rates and bad reputation. Demands on the student need to be higher, not the other way around. If you can’t hack it, you’re out. Seriously, weed out the week. The thing is; university is not the meaning with life, it is not the final goal of human achievement. It’s for some people but not for all. To give everyone a degree, leads to academic inflation, diminishing the value of academic studies and therefore doing society a huge disfavour because people are investing a lot of money into something that in the end of the day is not worth anything.
Which bring me to my final point. I don’t like the idea of education as part of the capitalistic system, it should stand outside of that. To raise the ceiling for student fees will, I think, result in an even more prominent hierarchy between universities. A high status university will be able to provide high employability numbers, creating high competition for the places, and of course take the highest possible fee rates. Presumably, the educational standard will be great. But what about the university with low status, poor employability prospects and low demand? Their fees will be low, the teaching will be bad (or at least not as good), and so will the students’ academic ability. This means two people with the same degree have two very different educations and that, to an employer, means two very different things. It is a complete distortion not only of university education, but of the value of knowledge. Admittedly, I know squat about funding of HE. But what I do know is that you cannot put a price on knowledge, nor should you want to. And what was that I heard about Scotland? Oh, yes, university studies are FREE.