Sunday 3 July 2011

The purpose of education IS to make a profit! (so what do we now do about it?)

I want to be realistic, not provocative. There isn't a vice-chancellor in the country not looking anxiously at the 'bottom line' and thinking 'how do we survive?', 'how can we be secure?'. This is the situation our economy has brought us to over a long period of time (probably since the 1944 education act). It may not be a great place to be, but it's where we are.

The reaction of many education radicals is denial. In support of their arguments they cite old-fashioned radicalisms of the 1970s: ideas from a different time that barely described the economic conditions of that time, let alone our own.

We need a new economic model, not the rehashing of old-style arguments. We are in a strange place (an economic situation) that nobody understands. We have probably replaced 'wealth' with 'risk' as the principal driver of our economy (as Ulrich Beck would have it) - but what does that mean? How does it work? And how on earth has education appeared as one of the the main industries?

The armour of resistance is better description of our world. Marx knew this of his world: 'changing' follows 'naming'.

Luhmann talks about the way social systems (and education is one) encode communications around key paradoxes (or 'contingency formulae'). But the code changes over time: 'love' in 1650 is not the same as 'love' in 2011; 'law' is not the same... and 'education' is not the same (its paradox Luhmann describes as 'cultivation').

What I think we're staring at is a shift in the coding of education, where 'cultivation' and 'economy' are becoming re-aligned in a fundamental way. Our categories from the French Revolution of 'equality' are consequently being challenged very profoundly. It's hard to conceive of the consequences of this.

But this doesn't feel like a 'blip'. No repeal of legislation will sort it out. It's much bigger and much longer lasting. The way out is a long way off, and some serious thinking about where we've got to is necessary as we struggle through a difficult time. Beck would argue "Modernism has only just got started"

1 comment:

dkernohan said...

SUPERB POST. Thanks Mark.