When Learning Becomes a Business

Having been a student for nearly two decades of my life, it should come as no surprise that I am a person who values education. I value books and intelligent thoughts and I value people and institutions who value those same things.

Growing up, I loved school. Late September is undoubtedly one of my favourite times of the year because it means it’s time to go back to school and raid the office supply store for new school supplies. Pencils, notebooks, new pens… new textbooks with that sexy new textbook smell.

But now that I am entering my second year of my Masters degree, I feel a certain skepticism with schooling. Learning has been capitalized upon and has lost its original value. You say I’m a disillusioned young person– American, no less. You’re damn right I am.
I attended UC Davis for my undergraduate degree and in a sense I was incredibly lucky, because as a resident of the Golden State of California, I only had to pay a California residents’ tuition — $13,000 a school year. My European friends are shocked when I tell them I paid that hefty sum each year to learn. My Scandinavian friends laugh for not only do they get to learn for free, they are often PAID to do so. My British friends nod in frustrated agreement, they were the victims of the tuition fee hike from £3,000 a year to £9,000 a year.

 

Did you notice how I wrote only $13,000 a year? In an American’s mind, $13,000 a year was a bargain. It still is because Lord have mercy on any student who is fortunate enough to attend an Ivy League university where average tuition is a whopping $50,000 a year. $50,000. I could buy a Prius for myself and my dog for that sum.

 

But today, I’m not just pissed off about the rising cost of tuition. I’m pissed off by the lack of reverence given to higher education. You see, I’m a Masters student at a fairly well known and prestigious university in London. I pay ~£25,000 a year for my education. That’s hefty, and I did not make the decision lightly to embark on a two year program of this cost. But I wagered that the education I received would be worth it and would reap a return worth the initial investment (can you tell I study Management?).

 

I’m pissed off today because I’m used to American universities capitalizing on education. It’s revolting, but it’s something that American society has grown accustomed to. Americans are angry, don’t get me wrong (why do you think Bernie Sanders resonated so deeply with young Americans?), but we expect it. What an American does not expect is to move to a mildly Socialist country and be the butt of a cruel joke.

 

I am frankly disappointed that my university, for whatever greed-powered reason, has decided to reduce higher education to an income statement, constantly thinking up “imaginative” new ways to increase their bottom line. It has rejected the counsel of invested students as well as its best and most loyal faculty members. I recently completed an intensive one week course on Stakeholder Management at the Vienna School of Economics and Business and was reminded how glaringly my own university has failed to properly manage its stakeholders.

 

Surprise, surprise! When you run a university, your primary stakeholders should be your faculty and your students. So when you decide to completely disregard the adamant wishes of your stakeholders in the name of profit, you have screwed up royally. Even if we were to think greedily and pragmatically, do you think students who have been screwed over are going to be keen to donate to their alma maters when they graduate? Do you think they’ll have particularly nice things to say about their university experiences? Do you think they’ll encourage their employers to hire from their alma mater? How do you think this is going to affect your bottom line?

 

Forget the sanctity of education for a moment. Let me remind you of some recent history from my own alma mater, UC Davis. When you upset educated, ambitious students, you don’t just get a scene. You get a goddamn Broadway musical. Ask former Chancellor of the University of California, Davis, Dr. Linda Katehi. Ask her how well it worked out to pepper spray her own students in 2011, and then just this year attempt to scrub the internet of this. Ask her how well it worked out to disregard and disrespect, to undermine and insult the intelligence of her students. In case you’re not aware, it didn’t end well.

 

So let that be a lesson to education administrators around the world, what’s coming is coming and the blatant pursuit of revenue in higher education will not be tolerated. The Revolution will be blogged.

 

 

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