Isabelle de Pommereau writes about the student reactions to changes in European educational systems [ht:cr]. Some call these changes the “McDonaldization” of universities because they seek to emulate the US system of higher education:
Ten years ago, Europe’s ministers met in Bologna, Italy, to create a sort of common European education market. A three-year bachelor’s degree would replace the longer first degrees offered by most European universities. It would be followed by a two-year master’s. Students would have to complete work within a set time frame to save taxpayer money.
But what started as an attempt to foster internationality and mobility, known as the Bologna Process, ignited a revolution. Hundreds of thousands of students have taken to the streets in recent years to protest what they see as American-style privatization – energizing debate over how struggling Eurozone countries can keep intact a sacrosanct principle of free education for all.
Students in several countries have tried to make their voices heard:
In Spain, students have occupied university buildings, blocked train lines, and interrupted Senate meetings. In Paris, they have paralyzed the metro. In Prague,protesters held graduate “auctions” where fictitious companies auctioned off the most “efficient” graduates. Philosophy majors didn’t sell well.
“Education is a right, not a commodity,” proclaimed one banner plastered all over the University of Osnabrück, in Germany’s Lower Saxony. In March, thousands of demonstrators greeted the European education ministers at the Bologna Process’s 10th anniversary celebration in Vienna and Prague.
This banner’s message I find to be worth some reflection. Is education a commodity? Should it be exchanged on a market like cars, where money can buy quality? Doesn’t need-based financial aid make the market for education different? Of course, there is no way to cover all the questions that are raised by this questions. But I did want to add one thought.
As education becomes privatized, many aspects of U.S. higher education that are valuable but not profitable will disappear – with detriment to our society. Languages and humanities have been receiving less funding or cut out of the university altogether, as the University of Southern California did to their German department in 2008. The real cash cows are business schools, whose professors make significantly more in salary than professors in the humanities. This shift in areas of studies is being accompanied by a shift in the view of the basic essence of the university, which we have written about before as the “country-clubization” of the university.
The future of the liberal arts is too important to leave to the dictates of the market.