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Preface Part I: 'We're All Game Changers Now'

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on April 2, 2013 at 1:26:34 pm

There are at least two reasons it is important to experiment, critically, with the institution of the university at this particular moment in its history.

First Reason

In a chapter on ‘The Rise of the Global University’ in his 2009 book, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Andrew Ross predicts it is only a matter of time before we see the beginnings of a global university on the ‘model of the global corporation’ such as News Corporation, Time Warner, Coca-cola, Elsevier and Pearson.  He proceeds to present a somewhat gloomy vision of the future for universities if, in their drive to be ever more business-like and profit-orientated, they continue to follow the corporate model:

In this labor-intensive industry (the majority of education costs go to teaching labor), the instructional budget is where an employer will seek to minimize costs first, usually by introducing distance learning or by hiring offshore instructors at large salary discounts. Expatriate employees – assigned to set up an offshore facility, train locals, and provide credibility for the brand – will be a fiscal liability to be offloaded at the first opportunity. If the satellite campus is located in the same industrial park as Fortune 500 firms, then it will almost certainly be invited to produce customized research for these companies, again at discount prices. It will only be a matter of time before an administrator decides that it will be cost-effective to move some domestic research operations to the overseas branch to save money...

As far as the domestic record goes, higher education institutions have followed much the same trail as subcontracting in industry – first, the outsourcing of all non-academic campus personnel, then the casualization of routine instruction, followed by the creation of a permatemps class on short-term contracts, and the preservation of an ever-smaller core of tenure-track full-timers, crucial to the brand prestige of the collegiate name. Downward salary pressure and eroded job security are the inevitable upshot.

(Andrew Ross, ‘The Rise of the Global University’, Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor In Precarious Times (New York and London: New York University Press, 2009), p.202-203)

As Ross’s account of the US domestic situation suggests, we should take care not to console ourselves too quickly with the thought that such globalised corporate scenarios belong to an as yet still distant future. In fact just one year after the publication of Nice Work If You Can Get It, an article in the US Chronicle of Higher Education detailed how the Director of business law and ethics studies at the University of Housten was outsourcing the grading of undergraduate papers to Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc. whose employees are mostly in Asia:

The goal of the service is to relieve professors and teaching assistants of a traditional and sometimes tiresome task—and even, the company says, to do it better than TA's [teaching assistants] can. The graders working for EduMetry, based in a Virginia suburb of Washington, are concentrated in India, Singapore, and Malaysia, along with some in the United States and elsewhere. They do their work online and communicate with professors via e-mail... The company argues that professors freed from grading papers can spend more time teaching and doing research.

(Audrey Williams June, ‘Some Papers Are Uploaded to Bangalore to Be Graded’, Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2010)

Even closer to home, the UK's University of Warwick and Australia's Monash University announced in February 2012 that they had formed a partnership aimed at enabling both institutions to compete in the ‘globalised higher education market’. Ed Byrne, Monash's vice-chancellor and former director of private healthcare firm Bupa, was quoted in the Times Higher Education as saying that, thanks to globalisation and technological change, higher education ‘is really going to become a global marketplace’, a process which will ‘alter the traditional university model’ (John Morgan, ‘Warwick and Monash Team up for Global Strategy’, Times Higher Education, February 2, 2012, pp. 6-7). The same article has Byrne echoing an airline analogy used by his Warwick counterpart, Nigel Thrift, to emphasize the potential of such global university partnerships: ‘in the Star Alliance that includes Lufthansa and United Airlines, independent brands had realised that “to cover the globe” they “needed to come together to form a different type of partnership”.’ Hence the reason the ‘two vice-chancellors believe that global “university systems” will be needed to respond to future demands in education and research.’
What, though, if we are unhappy with the way universities today, in their drive to be ever more business-like and profit-orientated, are following closely the corporate model, complete with distance learning, outsourcing, off-shoring, global ‘university systems’ and all, and yet at the same time have no desire to return to the paternalistic and class-bound ideas that previously dominated the university, replete with all the hierarchies and exclusions around differences of class, race, gender, ethnicity and so forth they imply? What, to echo Cardinal Newman’s question from the 19th century by Cardinal Newman, is our idea of the university?

Second Reason

A second, and related reason it is important to experiment with the institution of the university at this particular moment in time concerns the central role it plays in global capitalism’s ‘knowledge economy’... (To continue reading, click here)


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