The Future of the Universities

    Ob današnjih nasilnih protestih britanskih študentov zaradi povišanja šolnin vam bo mogoče še posebej zanimiv članek, ki ga je v zadnji številki LRB o reformi visokega šolstva v Veliki Britaniji napisal Stefan Collini. Daljše branje, ampak res vredno truda. Gre za kritičen komentar študije “Securing a sustainable future for higher education” (lord John Browne), ki trenutni britanski vladi služi kot programsko izhodišče njenih reform visokega šolstva.

    V čem je bistvo zgodbe? Browne predlaga popoln umik neposrednega financiranja univerz (to je v Britaniji po thatcherjevskih reformah v 1980′ že itak bistveno manjše kot pri nas). Univerze bi konkurirale na prostem trgu s ceno študija in njegovo kvaliteto, študenti pa bi sami v celoti krili stroške študija, s tem, da bi država prejšnje financiranje univerz nadomestila z jamstvenimi shemami za posojila študentom, s katerimi bi si plačali šolnine.
    Dobro, mogoče se nam zdi to zdaj čisto nemogoče in irelevantno za nas, a ne pozabimo, da smo tudi razne bolonjske reforme fasali preko “kot” anglo-saških idealov najboljših univerz, tako da, previdnost ni odveč. Ali, kot pravijo naši modri politični voditelji: če se borba za demokracijo in varnost bije na vzhodu (v Iraku in Afganistanu), je fronta za univerzo očitno odprta na zahodu.
    Similarly, Browne appears to believe that the only relevant measure of teaching quality is ‘student satisfaction’. That is how the system will work: if they are satisfied, they’ll pay, and if not, not; and the pressure they exert thereby will ‘drive up quality’. But this, other problems aside, comes perilously close to reducing important human experiences to a set of ‘preferences’ as reported on a tick-box questionnaire. I would hope the students I teach come away with certain kinds of dissatisfaction (including with themselves: a ‘satisfied’ student is nigh-on ineducable), and it matters more that they carry on wondering about the source of that dissatisfaction than whether they ‘liked’ the course or not. This is another respect in which the ‘consumer’ model is simply misleading, an error encouraged by the prevalence in current edspeak of the category of ‘the student experience’ (many universities now have a senior figure entitled Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Student Experience). It may be that the most appropriate way to decide whether the atmosphere in the student bar is right is by what students say when asked in a questionnaire whether they ‘like’ it or not. But this is obviously not the best way to decide whether a philosophy degree should have a compulsory course on Kant. The philosophy department might hope that, some time after graduation, most of its former students would come to see the wisdom of this requirement, but ‘student satisfaction’ is not what is at issue here. That this recognition is retrospective tells us something important about education: individuals often need to be told by someone who knows that a particular line of study is worth pursuing whether at the time they want to or not.(*)