Notes from the Radio interview with David Robinson.

“Senior Consultant to Education International, the global federation of teachers unions, David Robinson is very unhappy at the way universities are being refocused for the purposes of commercial enterprise rather than academia and scholarship.”

Paradox: governments and decision makers claim Universities and Higher Education is more important now than ever before, yet, Universities around the world are under more pressure and stress than ever before. Is it the problem driven by the need of accountability? Yes, it is part of the drive. How much time academics spent on accountability measures? 10-15%

Assessing criteria: is it a paper that you can do quickly? Is is the paper that will have economical impact?

This pushes the pursuit of knowledge for the knowledge sake out of the picture. The academic tradition of pursue of knowledge has many benefits in the society. Is it an unacceptable indulgence to pursue knowledge for the knowledge sake? Pursuit of knowledge for its own sake has broad impact on society and economy. Example: “blue sky research” (why is the sky blue?)

Broken ideology? “Vandals at the gates” pushing a broken ideology, based on market economy. Governments should not fund education, but it should be part of the market. Customer will drive what the product is.

Educational process requires fundamentally to challenge the status quo, to challenge people, and make people uncomfortable. Yet, the metrics use “student satisfaction” as a measure for academic progress and promotion. Something that can be seen as a good pedagogical outcome (challenged students) is causing the professor to be “punished” within the system.

Relying on students for the revenue stream, especially relying on international students as a revenue generating machine is causing some problems. In australia and new zealand on few occasions international students plagiarized work and the officials tried to cover it up in fear of scandal and “loosing paying customers”, and revenue.

In the past, 20 years ago, 75% of teaching has been done by full-time academic staff. Currently, 75% is done by fixed-term contractors and non-tenure staff. This has serious integrity implications. Tenure doesn’t mean “job for life” – tenure means certain level of protection, against institutional censorship, or political censorship, from political and economical fluctuations. Currently, it is easy for those with unpopular viewpoints to simply not extend their contracts.

Long-term prospect: unsustainable model of higher education. If the workforce is hollowed out, the system will not work.

Re-investment into people.

Are there any societies that are winning this war? These are global trends, but anglo-saxon countries are in the worst shape. The scandinavian countries continue to keep the model as a service, but they are slowly experiencing the same pressures.

Concerns about the quality of research? The shift on commercial aspects made, for example the medical research focus almost entirely on small modifications of existing drugs, instead of focusing on broad aspects such as causes of diseases, public health, etc. Big pharma makes certain influences and pressures that weeds most of fundamental research.

Universities and acedemia is the only place in the society that has a dispassionate outlook on the reality around, whether something is beneficial or harmful, whether something has a benefit to society, or doesn’t. Example of a blood research in one of Canadian university done in collaboration with a big pharma company. Research indicated high risk for certain people of a particular drug – researcher wanted to publish the results and notify the public and other researchers about the findings, and the company was trying to cover up the research results.

“All research is applied or should be applied”. “We expect research output to produce commercial economic benefit for the country.” Is it inherently bad? No – it isn’t. One of the roles universities fullfill in the society. But it is not the only role. The strong focus on short-term commercial outcomes is pushing the long-term pursuits impossible. The short-term economic and commercial benefits should be driven mostly by the private sector. The universities should focus on the long-term research – otherwise there will be none doing that in the society.

New Zealand – serious concerns on drive to short-term impact and commercial economic benefits.

Departure from the collegial governance of the universities where the management was conducted by academic staff themselves and drive to focus power in the Universities in corporate-like management, should be balanced with the voice of students and staff. Academic staff and students should be involved in decision making on all levels.

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