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April 23, 2010

I haven’t written anything here for over a month and I’m not entirely sure how to account  for this. Disinterest? Lethargy? Sloth? Perhaps a combination of all of them.

So I’ve been looking back over some of the stuff that I’ve written and reflecting upon my pre-occupations, which seem to be education and work. My comments on both are really pretty negative (I blame The Smiths for my melancholy) – in effect it’s not just Media Studies that is shit but everything else as well.

To recap for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention: education is in the doledrums because it is unimaginable that it should serve some other purpose other than that of the economy, even though there is evidence to suggest that there is no straightforward correlation between more education and economic success. It seems that the government always knew this but never let on. I mean, if it genuinely thought that education was the key to economic prosperity it wouldn’t be cutting spending on higher education during the present financial crisis.

The ‘real’ economics of university it seems had more to do with saddling young people with debt by reneging on free education and charging them for degrees. But the credit crunch has put paid to an economic model that was casual about debt and lending. In the future the notion of graduates being 20K or 25k in debt before their 22nd birthday may strike people as obscene and if governments are unwilling to reinstate grants I suspect that we’ll see a lot less enthusiasm for mass higher education.

In any case, we are probably producing more graduates than industry needs, many of them emerging from university with degree certificates you wouldn’t wipe your arse on. And there is anecdotal evidence that the surplus of graduates has simply depressed wages in some professions, which might have been the point all along.

So higher education is a bit of scam. Like the financial sector and the excesses of MPs in parliament, universities offer further proof that our economic and public life is pretty rotten. How can we take seriously these deadening bureaucracies waffling about entrepreneurship and enterprise; bogged down in an audit culture that mistakes paper trails and reports for real work and quality; proliferating shit degrees so as not to miss a single opportunity to recruit in the higher education market place; and all overseen by senior managers with incomes that the Prime Minister and many a CEO would envy.

Well, working in such a corrupt environment does make you question the purpose, quality and morality of what you do and I’ve concluded that the world might be a better place if I and others like me did a lot less or even engaged in a little sabotage.

It’s the vacuousness of so much work that is so striking, not just in higher education but I suspect in so many other areas also. The energy and industry expended in producing… what?  Well, not much often: end results of dubious quality, little use or simply more than we need. Why are we compelled to do it? Because capitalism works.

That’s what people say, isn’t it, when you put the case for socialism or some other alternative to the free market? They say, ‘Capitalism works and the alternatives have been found wanting.’ And they’re right – literally. Capitalism works… and works and works and works. More particularly, IT WORKS YOU. It can’t bare to see you idle. It resents your weekends. It wants to encroach into your evenings. It abhors your holidays. It sneers at your pathetic insistence on ‘work-life balance’.

‘Work-Life balance’? Sounds as if work and life are somehow separable; perched on either end of a scale that only requires you to find some sort of equilibrium between them and all will be well. But this is bollocks. Work is the foundation upon which your life is built. Remove it and your life doesn’t ascend to a new high, it crashes down around you. Even those who believe in the notion of ‘work-life balance’ implicitly acknowledge the privileged position of work in the relationship, because they always couch their arguments in terms that suggest more ‘life-time’ will make you more productive when you are at work. It’s just unthinkable that anyone should ask for reduced hours simply because it would improve the quality of their life.

The only reason that time-out of work is tolerated at all is to allow you to recover from exhaustion but more importantly it permits you the leisure time to consume and in doing so produce more profits. So in a sense, even when you’re not working you’re still working. Its obvious when you think about it: look at the amount of time and money that people sink into their houses and the emotional investment they make in the homes, certainly since Thatcher announced the arrival of the great property owning democracy.

There is no stronger indicator of this shift than the array of DIY, home buying, second home buying, grand designing, location, location, location-type shows on the box, not to mention the cookery programmes that have proliferated on our screens to both serve and instruct us in becoming proper domesticated consumers. You are now just as likely to knock off work for the weekend and come home to so much cleaning, cooking and  general domestic  maintenance that you’ll wish yourself back at your desk or lathe.

Domestic labour was of little consequence when it was housewives catering for their husbands. Today the domestic sphere generates debt and debt (certainly before the credit crunch) was considered all to the economic good. It’s also a political virtue because people in debt can’t afford to stop working and are less likely to strike or stand up for themselves incase they can’t make the repayments and lose the roof over their heads. Still, thank God we’re living in the free world.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2010 9:39 pm

    You might not be writing much because you’re tired – I know I can’t blog as much as I’d like to due to work, and especially at some points in the year (lots of lectures to prepare/ revise, or the dreaded marking) I just can’t focus on anything else. I agree with you about the pointlessness of much of the administrative side of higher education, which is 90% a job creation scheme for non-academic staff and 10% necessary to make sure we are being fair to the students (e.g. exam boards). But there are still aspects of teaching and research which for me make the job worthwhile, if still often rather daunting. Capitalism will suck you dry if you let it, the best way to counter this is to find something to do for a living which you can justify morally and which you enjoy at least part of the time, i.e. derive a non-monetary benefit from. And keep away from the DIY, it is the devil’s way of making you waste your time.

  2. Rabelais permalink*
    April 25, 2010 8:14 am

    … the devil’s way of making you waste your time… that is the perfect description of DIY. I quite like growing things though. I won’t dignify what I do in the back garden by calling it ‘gardening’ because I’m only really interested in stuff I can eat – tomatoes, herbs, leeks, that sort of thing. But housework, cutting the grass, cleaning windows, washing the car? I just think, well, there’s a Saturday afternoon I’m not getting back…

  3. May 24, 2010 11:53 pm

    There is no straightforward correlation between more education and economic success. It seems that the government always knew this but never let on

    You’re right about the pointlessness and lack of value in much of our degree education these days (yes, I’m a journalism lecturer, I know).

    But to what end? If those in the government responsible for the irrational drive towards 50% undergraduate participation knew this, what on earth was it all for?

    You argue:

    The ‘real’ economics of university it seems had more to do with saddling young people with debt by reneging on free education and charging them for degrees.

    But this doesn’t really make sense. It’s not as if the government benefits from this indebtedness – it’s all handled at arm’s length by the loan company.

    Of course, none of this will change anything. Many people (especially many of my hapless undergraduates) still believe the degree itself has value.

    It’s quite hard to disabuse them of this. My students get quite distressed when I draw them a supply and demand graph showing what happens to graduate wages when there is a glut of BAs on the market…

  4. Rabelais permalink*
    May 25, 2010 9:53 am

    Welcome Freelance,
    I teach journalism students and media studies students and as you say, drawing them the ‘supply and demand graph’ has little impact upon them. I suppose hope springs eternal. The last figures I had were that 1 in 5 students studying media realted subjects got jobs in the industry, and apparently that’s pretty good. What the other 4 in 5 think of that I don’t know.

    I can see that you’re not convinced by my hunch that higher education’s real economic ‘success’ has been getting 20-sometings into extraordinary debt. True, the government doesn’t benefit from this directly but in an ecomony that has been driven by debt, introducing young people to a debt-lifestyle might be seen as a success of sorts. I’ll confess I’m scratching my head on this one but I really can’t believe that the government thought that educating more people would simply make us all richer. For a start, there is your supply and demand graph – too many graduates, not enough graduate jobs and depressed salaries.

    Also, if governments really believed that extending education was the road to economic prosperity wouldn’t you think that it would create the conditions in which students could attend to their studies without the distraction of low-paid part-time work? At my current institution (and the previous one I worked at) we try not to teach on Friday’s because the students are heading home for their weekend jobs. Assignment deadlines are waived in favour of student work commitments. And in a couple of instance I suspect that students simply didn’t turn up for exams that clashed with work, assuming that they could repeat in the summer.

    There are other contradictions. For instance if government really wanted to produce a generation of enterprising young people shouldn’t it be concerned that students are becoming more dependendant on parents? If education really was/is our best economic policy, as Tony Blair said, then why is funding being cut at the moment? Wouldn’t this be exactly the time to invest in it?

    Government policy just doesn’t add up and the only possible economic rationale for herding large numbers of young people through dodgy courses that I can see is to deliberately land them in debt.

    I’ve written some other stuff on this as I’ve been trying work out what on earth I’m meant to be doing in HE. I’ve pasted links below.

    Hope to hear from you again Freelance.

  5. May 27, 2010 10:58 pm

    It’s a bit conspiracist to believe that the government deliberately set out on a policy of getting students in debt to oil the wheels of economy.

    I mean, I love a good conspiracy theory, but generally they’re not true – mainly because politicians are too inept and stupid to pull them off.

    I suspect New Labour bought into its own myth that government is wise and good and should be the engine of prosperity and success – in this case through education. They simply didn’t think it through. It’s the vision thing. Not the logic thing.

    This has happened many times before. It’s why hundreds of thousands of people live lives of misery in decaying high rise council estates. It’s progress, you see…

  6. Rabelais permalink*
    May 28, 2010 8:44 am

    I hope it’s not a conspiracy theory.

    Blair said that education was our best economic policy. Taken at face value this seems rational – after all, historically, graduates have tended to get paid more than non-graduates. So I’m sure, at some time, Labour were sincere about this policy. But it doesn’t work. Education does not equal economic success. And the introduction of fees is the moment that the government unconsciously admitted as much.

    Individuals and groups of people are quite capable of saying one thing, and can actually really mean it, while at an unconscious level, simultaneously acquiescing to something else.

    How many government ministers and MPs came out stridently in defence of the invasion of Iraq (many still do) but knew that the case for war was rubbish. But if you pray you believe. Eventually you find a way of thinking and talking your way into that mindset – the intervention is humane; there are WMD; Saddam is a threat to the region – but deep down you know that what you have actually enlisted for is the extension of US imperial power. But you can never admit this, even to yourself. So you lock it away in your unconscious.

    Is this just old fashioned duplicity? Or conspiracy? I think there is something more complex going on.

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