Chronicles of a search: something got to change

I spend a lot of time speaking with educators. Most of these conversations are about two things: How the world is changing and how higher education does NOT need to change.

The assumption is that there is an unmutable core of higher ed: Some type of transcendent purpose beyond the question of practical application and economic returns, beyond here and now, something that can not be or should not be measured. This is very hard to argue against. What kind of lowlife I would be to question an educator dedicated to building better lives? 

But I usually leave with a question. If we want to improve lives, is getting the students to attend school and making them read textbooks the best way to do it? Besides, we don't even do it for free: We make them pay for the pleasure of becoming a better person and often their parents have to sell their land (or liquidate family savings) to be able to afford it. 

For me, there is indeed an unchanging core of higher education - that to be able to take control of their own lives! But this includes being able to pay one's bills and being able to pursue a meaningful life. 

But, higher education, or let's call it university education, was never ever about being a better person. It was almost always about getting into a profession. The first universities were about training pupils on medicine and law. And, yes, there was theology, but that was more about a profession, an important and coveted one at the time, than any moral imperative. 

In India, this was more so, where an English Governor General rightly figured that 'English means money'! When admitting him to college, Reverand Lal Bihari Dey's father clearly told him that he was being sent to college to get a job, and not morality, which he must learn at home. Things have not changed much since 1830s!

I take my role of advocating 'graduate jobs for graduate students' seriously. At least, in doing this, I don't have to pretend. I don't have to hide behind the excuse that even when someone is serious about change, the regulators are not allowing them: A few minutes' conversation can uncover that no one has even read what regulators are saying. Regulations are always like that: Everything is always possible and nothing ever is, depending on what one wants to take from it. For me, the best way to deal with regulation is to follow common sense and try to do the best job and then, if regulators challenge this (which they rarely do), argue the case for it. 

Quelle horror! Of course, my higher education colleagues think that I shall break the system if I am to run a higher education institution. I wear my badge of blasphemy proudly though: I do want to break a broken system, rather than becoming the undertaker of a dead system. I refuse to take on a business-as-usual role even if it is more profitable for me personally to do so. 

The reason is that every time I shall send a student to a classroom which would rob their dream and waste their time, I am destroying a life bit by bit. My unthinking action is not without consequences. And, I am not going to plead not guilty if I put people on trains and did not know how they disappeared afterwards (like Eichmann did). In fact, a life in crime is perhaps more honest than robbing promises of thousands of people and sending them to desolate lives.

This is also why I speak about the global change: Technology is changing, the lazy supply chain of labour is broken, the foundations on which our lives are built are falling apart. I celebrate these as opportunities: That the degree business is suffering is welcome. The universities are now like tobacco businesses: They are forever in search of unsuspecting customers, every year a more naive bunch than the year earlier! They are worse than tobacco business in a way: They don't yet have to put a statutory warnings on their admissions brochure. Something got to change - and I live in anticipation.


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