To Be Honest: Not-so-smart cuts and bureaucracy are damaging our degrees
Academic entrepreneurs are zealously driving a value-stripping raid
I’ve seen it many times but I’m always impressed by the enthusiasm and optimism of a fresh cohort of incoming students. At the same time, I’m saddened the experience we provide may be less enriching than it should be.
Beneath the student-centred gloss coming out of marketing departments, seen from the inside, a university education is no longer provided for the love of knowledge or for the sake of learners but has become something produced at the lowest cost and sold at the highest volume and price.
Academics are under pressure to join the corporate college show, to hard-sell hollowed-out courses to student-consumers, parents and other “stakeholders”, and to crow about their institution’s enterprising ethos. This applies even when, in the sciences as well as the humanities, their discipline often has intellectual and social concerns other than the bottom line.
Inside the shrill, hyper-competitive, marketised culture, with its strategic goals dictating teaching and research targets, course budgets have been battered and most working lecturers are at the receiving end of pay cuts, workload hikes, and casualisation.
Established staff feel fearful, worthless and prospectless and are diminishing in number. The wisdom of many a senior staffer has been prematurely retired out.
Experts from what some like to call the real world, teaching for the love of it, have been let go, replaced by postgrad greenhorns. Class numbers have grown and the content of ever-multiplying courses is spread ever more shallowly.
University bosses want to go even further, and hype MOOCs (massive open online courses) as a cure for chronic under-funding, potentially condemning lecturers to a role of pedagogical mopping up in the wake of TED Talks rock stars. Everyone knows, but no one says openly, there is no future in teaching. Teaching is for mugs.
In the midst of the funding crisis, a cadre of well-paid academic entrepreneurs and administrators has gained control of colleges and of faculties. They are zealously driving what they trumpet as reform but what in fact is shaping up as one of the greatest value-stripping raids of our age, with the next steps, if we follow trends elsewhere, privatisation, full fees and student loans.
The ballooning of a bureaucracy brings with it a deepening of hierarchies, with most academics at the bottom. The new-generation university cynically aims to run on automatic, with corporate careerists clutching the levers, and maximum compliance, through endless data entry and reviews.
If there is to be dissatisfaction with the outcomes of this, the managers are immune.
Plans are in place so the harassed lecturer now welcoming newcomers to her class can, at the end of term, be subjected to a digitally gentrified version of being put in the stocks, via online evaluation by the clients whose work she must mark.
Is it any wonder that in this new theatre of cheap edutainment, we have grade inflation, common plagiarism, and, ultimately, justified questioning of the worth of our degrees?
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