Education, not corporatisation

The University must get its priorities right and reevaluate its corporate strategy

Alberto Martínez de Arenaza

The University of Glasgow has, in recent years, become more and more of an international corporation in the eyes of the ordinary students who make up this institution. The efforts made by the University to enhance its global reach, to become more efficient, to become more profitable, and to climb up positions in the international rankings may have succeeded in marketing terms, but most students feel somewhat uneasy about these changes, after being left behind by the University’s corporate strategy.

In recent years, the University has been promoting itself worldwide, with campuses in different countries, as part of an ongoing ‘internationalisation’ process. Glasgow University recently received CIPS Corporate Certification, which means that the University can now be compared to international companies in other industries and gauge its performance by international corporate standards. Furthermore, the University is due to invest three quarters of a billion pounds in redeveloping the increasingly overcrowded campus.

These changes have been represented as major achievements; milestones in the history of this institution. Of course, no one would want to see this ancient university fall behind other internationally competitive universities because of a failure to adapt to this fast-changing, interconnected, new world, but is corporatisation really the only way of keeping up?

To start with, the University of Glasgow is a public institution. Of course it should be profitable, but perhaps we must think twice about what direction we are heading in, as the emphasis seems to have shifted from delivering a quality education, to making as much money as possible. While the University wants to increase the number of  international students, who pay a lot of money for the privilege of studying at Glasgow, funding for postgraduate students is limited to those fields of study considered to be more ‘profitable’. What is the point of trying to make millions of pounds when the academic reputation of the University suffers as a result of a relentless desire for profitability?

The fact that the University is moving away from its founding principles, and focusing more on how to be profitable, fundamentally changes the debate on higher education. Inevitably, some subjects will be categorised as useless and, thus, not worthy of university funding at all. Some subjects in the fields of social sciences, humanities and arts are being perceived as something close to “romantic”, and are now receiving less and less funding because they do not have a direct application in the jobs market. But it should be remembered that, amongst other things, a degree is about mental preparation for the more complex challenges in life. Are subjects like business, management or economics more useful when applied in the working environment? Not necessarily, as people who study more ‘practical subjects’ retain the information they ‘learn’ for no more than a week or two. We are overwhelmed with an excessive amount of irrelevant information, while, on the other hand, subjects like philosophy teach you to work with assumptions, rethink what you thought you knew, and develop a thought process which can be applied when discussing any given topic, even in the working world. These are skills that will stay with students for the rest of their lives, and yet, those subjects are not regarded as being worthy of public funding.

The University should be a place for learning, a place for knowledge, regardless of which degrees employers value the most. It should not be an international corporation, but a place where students from across the world can gather to learn and develop as people. Why is the University trying to expand its global reach while, simultaneously, raising tuition fees? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I have nothing against striving for greater efficiency, becoming more modern, and thinking about the University from an international perspective – we can all benefit from that. But, the University must think more about what it is  giving up in the process. The current strategy is not the only possible way towards a better education, which is what should motivate the University’s senior management above all else. Nothing should compromise the quality of education the University delivers – not even the prospect of higher profits.


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