21 June 2010

Education, Education, Education

Discontent is simmering in the halls of Academe around Europe.  Some students seem to take umbrage at the Bologne process that is trying to unify all of Europe’s university degrees.  One of them is Ben Stotz of Freie Universit├Ąt, Berlin (member of the Federal Governing Board of the Sozialistischer-Demokratischer Studierendenverband Die Linke.SDS).  He gave an interview to Humboldt’s monthly newspaper (Issue 8 - 2009/2010).  Here’s a short question and answer:

Q.  The subject of the third dispute was “Who is allowed to study?”  Who is being excluded from university education and how can that be changed?

A.  A large proportion of the population.  In no other country does academic success depend so much on the parental house as in Germany.  19% of students come from the working class.  That’s why we are fighting for a general openness of tertiary education.  Everyone should be able to study, regardless of his economic position, who his parents are, or his school leaving qualifications.  In addition, there shouldn’t be any restrictions on places for Masters studies.  Many students are worried that after a Bachelor’s degree, they will end up as cheap labour.

Valid points, and noble.  How nice it would be if we could all go to university and get ourselves a degree (even if we do have to cram in the knowledge in three short years).  Everyone would leave school at 18 and go straight into tertiary education; whether they can manage to keep up or not is neither here nor there.  There’s only one country on earth that operates this system – Utopia.

Here are some thoughts for Herr Stotz to ponder on.

How many working-class children are actively encouraged by their families to continue their education, even if they are academically gifted?  If money was no object, I still believe few children from such backgrounds would go on to study.

If there are no restrictions on places for Masters studies (e.g. by number available, or students’ grades) then what would be the difference between Bachelors and Masters?  There would be no concept of progress or an increasing degree of difficulty in studies pursued.

Someone has to drive the city’s trams and someone has to prepare the food in the Mensa cafeterias.  You don’t need a degree to perform these jobs.  But if we push everyone into higher education, then a graduate might end up doing these jobs and, quite justifiably, protest that he is being exploited.

Just how many lawyers, architects, chemists, philosophers, translators, etc. etc. does a country need?  Don’t we also need street cleaners, shop assistants, and bakers?  Who will do these jobs?

Another reason why graduates might end up as cheap labour is because there is a lack of ‘real’ jobs for them to do.  Might it not be more prudent to secure workplaces first, rather than educating students for jobs that don’t (yet) exist?

We need to provide education and training for a whole gamut of occupations and lifestyles.  While a university degree has many things going for it (freedom to grow as an individual, personal development, and such like), it is not necessarily the best option for every single school leaver.

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.