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Is Education Becoming Infected With Money by Alex Dunedin

In this article I want to plot out an argument that the instrumental effect of financialising areas of public value is a destructive force in our society, and that education is becoming ‘infected with money’. By this, I mean that the managerialism of putting finance at the heart of areas of life which are not profit driven is altering the fundamental nature of how people engage with institutions such as education.

We now find ourselves in an age where finance takes us into a neo-feudal system of administrative superstructures which come to govern every aspect of our lives. The managerialism which accompanies the finance brings endless bureaucracies of ever increasing outcomes and measurements, tendering processes, decreasing budgets, loss of agency and top down policy imposition. In corporate administrative workplaces, as Iris Marion Young puts it, “If people have decision making power, it is generally over others’ actions rather than their own” [1].

Money as a disease

In our current UK situation, charities are being forced to become businesses via a social enterprise rhetoric [2], education is being sized up by investment bankers [3], even health [4] and prisons [5] are being viewed for their ability to yield a profit rather than serve an intrinsic social value. In his book ‘Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain’, George Monbiot helps to illustrate the extent to which our education system has become infected by this replacing of public value with market values:

According to investment banker Michael Moe “The classic investment opportunity is where there’s a problem, the larger the problem, the larger the opportunity and there is no larger problem today than how to better educate our populace” [6]. The corporate takeover of education is a palpable and verifiable move. According to the Round Table of Industrialists, “The provision of education is a market opportunity and should be treated as such” [7].

The report was created by the Competitiveness Working Group of the European Round Table and consisted of representatives of the following companies: BP, BT, Daimler-Benz, Ericsson, Hoffmann-La Roche, ICI, Investor, Nestlé, Nokia, Olivetti, Philips, Pirelli, Profilo Holding, Renault, Shell International, Siemens, Smurfit, Société Générale de Belgique, Solvay, Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux, Unilever, VEBA and also representatives of BDI & UNICE [8]

If we take Umberto Eco’s notion of ‘kinship relations as the primary nucleus of institutionalised social relations’ we can understand that trying to impose the financial on the intellectual realm results in a distortion of the kinship relations [9]. It alters our interactions in relation to each other from one of personal and social growth which comes to bloom in society, to that of one where we are fulfilling the needs and desires of industry defined by corporations.

Lifelong learning

How does this infection manifest ? From the perspective of the Commission of the European Communities in Brussels lifelong learning involves social inclusion, active citizenship, personal development, and self-sustainability [10], in contrast to giving primacy to the values of competitiveness and employability that pervade market oriented values. Learners have been recast as consumers.

The relentless march of finance creates barriers and tolls to Lifelong Learning and erodes the capacity of teachers in formal education to focus on the development of the student. Most importantly, the effects of this culture are that those outside of education don’t get their valuable ideas and knowledge appreciated. Community education gets ostracised from funding processes as lacking high impact in the economy [11], whilst academics and teachers within formal education settings are instructed to bring money into the institution or face consequences.

Widening participation agendas turn to watery marketing and public relations campaigns, with flimsy MOOCs often leading to bait-and-switch scenarios where people are asked to stump up cash. Increasingly academics in understaffed institutions are asked to do more and more as digital technologies help pressing administrations reach into every pocket of spare time with which traditionally they would be enabled to contemplate and cogitate the content and teaching of their subject; weekends and evenings are tacit contributions.

Increasing numbers of bureaucracies eat into teaching and development time with students is set against gaining intellectually narrow rankings in the Research Excellence Framework as extra research requirements are loaded into the job roles. Everyone and everything is set into a spreadsheet and ranked, whereupon like are set against like; the social kinship relations have become divided and ruled.

Confronting Managerialism by Locke and Spender

Professor Locke and Professor Spender wrote an important book which is relevant to contextualizing the neoliberal managerialism which accompanies the imposition of market values across civil and public society today. Called ‘Confronting Managerialism; How the Business Elite 1and Their Schools Threw Our Lives Out of Balance’ [12], it likens “business managers who were once well-regarded as custodians of the economic engines vital to our growth and social progress now….to the rapacious robber barons of the 1880s”.

I run the Ragged University  – a community project outside of formal education which cultivates informal social and educational opportunities. At the bottom of the food chain, a project like mine – although critical in terms of generating inclusive social capital and opening up the educational landscape – it struggles with the effects of the cumbersome bureaucracies which ring fence funding. These paperworks, and money, threaten to change the inherent nature of the project sterilising the rich activities which arise within and throughout it. In this context I argue that money and the accompanying bureaucracies are impoverishing our society.

 

References:

[1] Young, I. M. (1990) Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, ISBN: 9780691152622, pp. 78

[2] Social Enterprise UK, ‘Survey shows charities want to trade as social enterprises but face cultural barriers and poor access to finance’, Last Accessed 24.08.2015: http://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/news/survey-shows-charities-want-trade-social-enterprises-but-face-cultural-barriers-and-poor-access-finance

[3] Sandler, M. R. (2010) Social Entrepreneurship in Education: Private Ventures for the Public Good. R&L Education, ISBN: 1607093561, pp. 47

[4] Campbell D. (Saturday 25 April 2015), ‘Far more NHS contracts going to private firms than ministers admit, figures show ‘, The Guardian, Last Accessed 24.08.2015: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/25/far-more-nhs-contracts-going-to-private-firms-than-ministers-admit-privatisation

[5] Miller P. (Thursday 27 August 2015), ‘Hunger strikes, rising levels of self-harm and huge profits: business is booming for private prison companies in the UK’, The Independent, Last Accessed: 24.08.2015: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/hunger-strikes-rising-levels-of-selfharm-and-huge-profits-business-is-booming-for-private-prison-companies-in-the-uk-10471107.html

[6] Bakan J. (2005) ‘The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power’, Constable, ISBN: 1845291743, pp. 112

[7] Monbiot, G. (2001) ‘Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain’, Pan Books, London, ISBN: 0330369431, pp. 323

[8] European Round Table of Industrialists, November 1998, Job Creation and Competitiveness through Innovation, ERT, Brussels, Last Accessed: 22.10.2018 https://ert.eu/sites/ert/files/generated/files/document/1998_job_creation_and_competitiveness_through_innovation_-_report.pdf

[9] Umberto Eco, U. (1978), ‘A Theory of Semiotics’, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN: 0253202175, pp. 15

[10] Commission of the European Communities: “Adult learning: It is never too late to learn”. COM(2006) 614 final. Brussels, 23.10.2006, Last Accessed 22.08.2015: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:52006DC0614

[11] Okolosie, L. (Thursday 26 March 2015), ‘Adult education is being slashed and burned – this is too important to ignore’, The Guardian, Last Accessed 24.08.2015: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/26/adult-education-funding-cuts

[12] Locke R. R., Spender J. C., (2011), ‘Confronting Managerialism How the Business Elite and Their Schools Threw Our Lives Out of Balance’, Zed Books Ltd, ISBN: 178032071X

 

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