From learning to earning – the changing ethos of English Higher Education

The publication of the White Paper on Higher Education emphatically entitled ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ opens the doors to one of the most radical transformations in the UK education system. The perverse and socially destructive potential of the document is vividly reported in a recent article written by Des Freedman and Natalie Fenton. As the authors suggest, in its attempt to introduce a consumer-oriented and competitive market of HE institutions, the White Paper shows its highly ideological and financial nature – whilst the (supposedly essential) educational component is left completely out of the picture. Students are to become active consumers, skilfully searching the higher education market for degrees able to place in their hands a good job after completion. Such assumption is aimed at justifying the raise in the fees to be paid by the student-consumer, since the best ‘product’ may be expensive but cost efficient in the long run.

Unfortunately, this view eludes any consideration of the process of erudition that should be at the very heart of any HE system, as the idea of learning is replaced by that of earning. The simple swap between these two terms in the lexicon of HE is not a secondary matter, whereas the original meaning of learning as a ‘acquiring knowledge of or skills in something by study or being taught’, is changed into learning as ‘gaining knowledge of or skills in something that will buy you a wealthy future’. Simply put, the leitmotif of the White Paper is that the pursuit of profit will become the only determinant of value in choosing a degree, whilst the idea of pursuing knowledge is demoted to the status of a mere means to achieve that goal. Such distortion taints the whole ethos of English Higher Education to the roots, and epitomises the spineless free market approach endorsed by Mr Willets and his colleagues in the Cabinet.

 


Categories: Higher Education

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