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No truly civilised society would sell education to its young anymore than it would sell breast milk to babies or bandages to the bleeding

July 28, 2010

The quote in the title is Terry Eagleton speaking at speaking at the over 300-strong Take Back Education teach-in at King’s College London on the 27th Feb 2010.

On a related issue, below Eva von Dassow, a professor of classical and Near Eastern studies, gives a 3 minute presentation before a public forum of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Electrifying.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Charlieman permalink
    July 28, 2010 11:07 pm

    Electrifying or electrocuting? Rab?

    I presume that you do not shout at people in real life. That you try to create an environment for discussion; even when the students act awkward. That “shit media studies” delivers employable graduates.

    But Eva von Dassow’s presentation was dreadful. Her arguments only made sense to people who had already made up their mind.

    Toss it aside. Eva von Dassow is/was not productive.

  2. Rabelais permalink*
    July 29, 2010 7:33 am

    Hi Charlie,
    My preferred option for real life is to talk softly but carry a big stick. And on the question of creating an environment for discussion? Well, that depends upon who is in the room. Discussion is appropriate in seminars but in negotiations with management, I’d rather come armed.

    What are your reservations about Eva von Dassow’s argument?

    I responded positively to her comments because I’m glad to hear someone state the obvious, that you don’t cut your way to excellence. My one reservation is that behind her protest there perhaps lies a desire to put things back as they were. I’ve never subscribed to the notion of a golden era in higher education, in fact I’d say its past has been pretty inglorious.

    • Charlieman permalink
      July 29, 2010 7:24 pm

      Having had another look at the video, I guess that my distaste is about the style of delivery. There is little for me to argue about in the content. However, I would highlight Eva von Dassow’s argument that the Regents were using the financial crisis to starve some parts of the university. I don’t know the circumstances at Minnesota but that particular bit does not convince me, and I assume that it might offend some floaters on the Board of Regents.

      The case that “you don’t cut your way to excellence” is one that needs to be heard in the UK more often. VCs (and I mean almost all of them) seem to think that their role is to improve their establishment’s place in the league tables AND to increase student numbers.

      When was the last time that a VC announced that their university should admit fewer UGs to improve staff:student ratios, thus improving teaching and providing more time for research? How about NOT raising £30 million for a new library and trying to generate a donor revenue stream for non-capital projects?

      Excellence is not necessarily measured by size. That might explain why some of the city centre universities that can’t expand owing to location have improved quality in other ways.

  3. Rabelais permalink*
    July 30, 2010 7:12 am

    At one point in the clip, Charlieman, I think she sounds like Spock, so I can imagine that her style isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. But I don’t mind the combative approach. I suspect that many on the Board of Regents wouldn’t have been listening even if she had turned up and song her contribution in the style of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Because I don’t believe there is any real discussion going on in higher education.

    You say when was the last time a ‘VC announced that their university should admit fewer UGs to improve staff:student ratios, thus improving teaching and providing more time for research?’ Announce it? I don’t even think they’d let the idea cross their mind; it just isn’t on the agenda. It seems that there is no alternative to further marketisation and commercialism. We can debate all we like with those parameters but its a bit like being told that you can have any colour of car you like as long as it is some or other shade of black.

  4. Affer permalink
    July 30, 2010 8:27 am

    “Marketisation”….hmm, don’t much like that word, Rab! And some Unis could probably do with a dash of commercialism….

    One problem is (in my view) that Unis often teach Marketing and Business – but less often practise it. So, a quite well-known Northern University with which I was once associated, spent a large sum of money tarting the place up for a visit by HMtheQ – including, of course, substantial redecorating of the VC’s staterooms and providing special roof gardens in case the old gal needed a sherry above the smog. Meanwhile, there was no money in the pot for the ‘home’ classroom for my course – which was left without tables on which to write, and without an AV system. Not that the latter mattered: there was no screen and no window blinds either. And a large block of concrete provided door security.

    The point about this is that, had the VC done a bit of basic marketing, he might have considered that the views of the Student cohort probably carried a bit more influence on the Uni’s future than our Monarch – although, to be fair, a bunch of Advertising Students were less likely to award him an MBE than an old girl with a crown.

    I do like Charlieman’s views on limiting intake, in pursuit of excellence, and note that it might cost De Montfort £4 million for (alleged) over-enthusiastic recruitment! However, more and more young people are applying for places, for a variety of reasons; ignoring all arguments as to whether these young people have the necessary learning skills, it does seem that there will be a long hard battle between those who believe in quality, and those who believe in education for all (ie volume).

    • Charlieman permalink
      July 30, 2010 7:24 pm

      Affer: “…it does seem that there will be a long hard battle between those who believe in quality, and those who believe in education for all (ie volume).”

      It is even more complicated than that. Quality and volume (assuming sensible admission criteria) are not opposites, if the money is available.

      Given that there is no extra money, it is not possible for every university to do both. Efficiency savings, should they exist in reality, do not add up to enough.

      However, that does not mean that universities should should give up on quality (which does not equate to league table position). Quality can be improved by changing the establishment. By changing UG:PG ratios or doing more research or hosting one of the government research bodies that does not currently have a university “home”.

      Increasing volume, ironically, was the reason why polytechnics were established. The polys, primarily successful HFEs, provided courses of different length and intensity, some of which were degrees. Part time students had study choice: they were not forced onto a full time degree course, but could attain a degree given desire and ability.

  5. Rabelais permalink*
    July 30, 2010 11:28 am

    I’m going to file that story about the well known northern university for future reference.

    On the question of marketisation and commercialistion, don’t you think there is too much of this sort of thing in HE already? I come from a background in retail – furniture, shoes, second hand records, fruit and veg – there’s not much that I haven’t bagged and sold at some stage. So when I arrived at a university just as they began introducing fees and effectively turning students into customers, I was disappoint. I’d struggle to get into university because I wanted to leave the world of retail behind and here I was having to ‘sell’ my course in the market place. Oh well, I thought, I know the drill. Tits ‘n’ teeth. The customer is always right. Profit is king and bugger quality, just as long as it has a shiny veneer on it. Now, I just feel that education is something we hang a price tag on at our peril.

    Having privatised the earth and all its resources and then having privatised and commodified all the products of human labour and manufacturing, we are now on the brink of privatising the human mind and imagination in ways previously considered inconceivable (and probably immoral). The whole repository of human knowledge will become available only to those who can pay. And when we’ve exhausted the human intellect and can make no further significant profits from it, what will they come for next? Our souls?

    Bloody hell, I’m on a role now….

    We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in universities, we shall fight on campus,
    we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the refectories, we shall defend our minds and imaginations, whatever the cost may be,
    we shall fight on the quadrangles,
    we shall fight on the university steps,
    we shall fight in the corridors and in the streets,
    we shall fight in the car park;
    we shall never surrender.

    Now slash the VC’s tires…

  6. July 30, 2010 12:34 pm

    It’s interesting isn’t it, that as soon as we get into a debate about the merits of higher education in the current economic climate, we get so bogged down in the numbers or in a moan about the mindset of the students we get these days that the values and point of higher education gets lost. I’m not saying that about this discussion thread necessarily (put down the gun, Rab!) but the wider debate in general.

    Ah, I feel a post coming on!

  7. Rabelais permalink*
    July 30, 2010 2:42 pm

    But aren’t students precisely the point of higher education? And are their mindsets a consequences of the social and institutional settings they find themselves in?

    I always try to make clear that I’m not bemoaning students per se, but the system that helps make them what they are. If we deplore the fact that students behave like consumers; if we see that disposition as inimical to education, then we have to ask, how do we expect them to behave if they pay for education like any other commodity?

  8. Charlieman permalink
    July 30, 2010 7:33 pm

    Rab: “But aren’t students precisely the point of higher education?”

    True. But higher education is only one function of universities. Universities are also places where discoveries occur. Fonts of wisdom too.

  9. Rabelais permalink*
    July 30, 2010 8:07 pm

    True, Charlieman.

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