The sad truth of education as business
A university education was designed to benefit a few – those few who were willing, eager and able to specialise in a field of expertise that would serve both themselves and perhaps the world. The market has had the devastating effect of devaluing the quality of education and letting students down.
University used to be a place of supreme intellect and the academically elite. If you wanted to involve yourself within that world you were more than welcome; you just had to meet elite criteria. If you didn’t, no worries! Pursue life however you want to pursue it. Then, one rainy day in 1997 came a man with a vision: Mr Tony “Education, Education, Education” Blair, and the rest is history.
The election of Tony Blair was a sadness all its own – it marked the ascension of neoliberalism to the very apex of the western political atmosphere (something only recently coming to a close), it marked the invasion of the middle east as an agenda in itself and it marked, hilariously, the end of free university education.
Surely ending something that is free would cause fewer people to want to go? Surely it would put people off? Well, maybe, were it to have actually stopped being free. But further education didn’t stop being free – not really. What it did do, however, was allow for the government to freshly factor in loan repayments to the student equation, equipped with that magical manufacturer of capital that is interest.
Suddenly, aside from the obvious benefits university educated minds brought to a society, they could also be turned into cold, hard capital. Monetised education – tangible profit from filling places (at least on paper).
With this freshly tangible wealth came a freshly sellable idea: the notion of getting all our young people to go to university! To make it accessible to all! To produce the most educated minds in the world! To broaden accessibility to elite education to the minds of the hard done by, down-trodden, working class youth! Rejoice, rejoice I say!
Or, at least, he said. Selling tuition fees as a way to access education was a nasty move even for a neoliberal Labour leader. What he did was make studying profitable then tell everyone that they need it. He created a new demand for something he was already supplying, and in doing so – and this is crucial – shackled students to the state.
You see, in making tuition payable by the student Blair was facilitating his true goal: to make everyone state reliant. To render the state such a leviathan force that people cannot do without it, by love or by force. Instead of giving people the one thing they should have for free, he made them indebted to the government, indebted to the state, and as such cogs in the state machine.
The real sadness in all of this? What Blair did to academia.
In making tuition directly profitable, he made students a commodity. In monetising education, he completely devalued intellect. Universities were quite abruptly under extreme internal and external pressure to put bums on seats, to fill institutions and increase admissions year after year, to keep the student loan machine turning.
What happens when you want to put bums on seats? You lower the quality of students. What happens when you reach a threshold where the academic courses will no longer attract more students? You lower the quality of courses available. Can’t do law? No worries, come and do photography instead. Photography too much? Come and get yourself a degree in media – or even better – film.
Education was thusly sold to us as the skeleton key to all of life’s doors and we were also all told that anyone is capable of getting a degree. The fact is, they aren’t. Just like not anyone is capable of becoming a world record swimmer, or a graded welder, or a poet, not everyone is compatible with academia and it was a dastardly and poisonous thing to suggest they were.
And now we have a political-educational environment that has erected its own funeral pyre: our politicians will neither seek to lower admissions nor will they remove tuition fees, they’re just too lucrative.
Like the impossible to remove peace time income tax, introduced circa 1842, tuition fees proliferate their own necessity. In any case, it would be impossible to direct the same funding based on the same quotas if it were finitely and entirely funded by the state. Brilliant, yet another toxic issue to add to the Frankenstein’s monster that is the neo liberal political agenda.
We are as such left with a dilemma. Not just a moral or ethical dilemma, nor even simply a political dilemma. We are left with an explicitly social dilemma, with a profound and broad societal reach. We must stop allowing politics to become the manufacturer of its own agenda. Higher education, like the NHS, is a perfect example of this point.
Now, certain issues simply cannot be discussed regarding higher education – for example, making entry requirements stricter and more elitist – because of the perceived loss of political capital such a position would bring. Like CEO’s of faceless, globalist companies politicians are increasingly pursuing the next electoral “dead cert” as opposed to pushing coherent, concise, competent ideology.
Higher education is being hamstrung by everything from the liberal and dubious distribution of unconditional offers (amounting to a pathetically patronising and dangerously damning 23% of all applications by 18 year olds) to the inability of politicians to debate this issue without emotive, party political rhetoric poisoning the discourse.
In all of this, the one thing that is being left behind in no man’s land is academia, and really the art of education itself. Students are being robbed of opportunity by the dystopic intellectual Robin Hood that is the promise of prosperity, reflected in the fact that a degree represents a worse investment than May’s Brexit plan, and that actually, around half of UK students probably shouldn’t have even bothered in the first place.
Monetised education steals aspirations and turns them into profit, at the cost of intellect, academia and self-actualisation. It’s a real shame and a sad state of affairs, that probably isn’t going anywhere fast. Still, at least we are the 5th most educated country in the world, whatever that means…