Writing about anything to do with the UK referendum, the UK leaving the EU and the machinations of politicians is too depressing and so I’ve decided to write about something completely different: higher education and what appears to be signs of financialisation.
The background to this is a conversation someone reported to me a couple of months ago. My friend had been chatting to a highly-regarded and high-achieving undergraduate who’d commented along the lines of tutors talking around subjects was all well and good, but this student would prefer being prepared for questions on the exam paper because that will determine the degree the student leaves with and, therefore, job prospects. Now, I might have some of the detail a bit askew, but the gist of it is correct.
When I was a student (which, I admit, was many years ago), I can’t think of anyone who thought tutors were there only to teach to the exam. Cover the syllabus (broad beyond reckoning though that was), yes; teach to the exam, no.
Since hearing this, I’ve heard of Oxbridge colleges that teach exam technique as well as stretching broad thinking and encouraging general reading. And I’ve also heard and read a number of accounts of students ascribing a financial cost to each tutorial, lecture or other staff interaction and determining whether the money is well-spent.
I was part of that fortunate generation who didn’t have to pay tuition fees and received a maintenance grant from the state. At the time, I took that for granted; now, I count my lucky stars.
I’m not comfortable with education being reduced to was it worth what I paid for it, but I suspect that it’s the inevitable consequence of tuition fees at the current level and the battle for jobs when students leave university. Increased pressure on teaching staff to deliver is another inevitable consequence, although how that leaves time for research and publication, when taken to its logical conclusion, is more of a mystery.
The contract between students and universities is altering. Universities need to invest in facilities to attract students in order to receive their tuition fees. Borrowing to improve facilities (in order to attract more students and receive tuition fees) runs the risk of becoming unsustainable.
I’m no longer clear where educating the individual sits in what is looking increasingly like the business of being a university.