Blogs posted by Quentin Deforge

Let's make education a real public good

Posted on 20 Nov 2012 at 16:21 by Quentin Deforge

Through their massification higher education systems have begun a transformation that brings today the question of financing. Some examples are the debates concerning tuition fees, the role of private funds and more generally the budgets allocated to higher education. To win the crucial battles that are coming by assuring a public financing of higher education allowing its democratization, we need to amplify this transformation to make higher education a real public good.

Austerity policies hit Europe from everywhere. More globally, since the 1980’s neoliberal policies seek to reduce the welfare states’ field of action. This ideological context violently hits our higher education systems while they were shifting due to their massification, through a huge increase in the levels of education. The huge debt that the American students owe to their banks is one of the indicatives.

To defend a free and public higher education, unions, that I was part of, promote the recognition of higher education as a public good. This legitimate claim brings a clear response to the question of financing education: since the whole society gains from education, society as a whole has to finance it.

For higher education it supposes that universities’ activities benefit the whole society, directly on indirectly. It is well known that higher education benefits society through the qualified employments that our society needs to run efficiently. But from a theoretical point of view as well as from a political one, it would be really reductive to limit ourselves to this aspect only. It is especially important not to forget about the role of universities toward the general public and students as enlightened citizens.

In fact, how can we make people aware of the need to limit tuition fees and to increase budgets of higher education today? How can we limit the development of individualistic discourses in the debates regarding the financing of higher education while universities are withdrawing into themselves and that the majority of students accumulate knowledge as individuals as the human capital theory suggests it?

For these debates, that will be very harsh in the future, to have the outcomes we expect, it is very important to turn higher education into a real public good from which the benefits for the whole society are undeniable. The major axes presented previously contain numerous opportunities to participate in this transformation of higher education.

First, let’s talk about the University’s role toward the public. Researchers’ lacking of financing is well known; they talk about it a lot especially in human and social sciences. But do these researchers open up to the public and disseminate to them the fruit of their labour? Who are the researchers who make a vulgarization’s effort? Why are universities not an open place for debate and culture, thus promoting the democratization of knowledge?

Researchers should transmit this knowledge by making the effort of vulgarization and by making their universities have a role in their field. Conferences, open lessons, debates, guest lecturers in high schools etc. Children Universities in the United Kingdom or video broadcasting of courses as it’s done by some American universities show that there are many opportunities to turn higher education into a real public good accessible to all social classes. Information and communication technologies are an incredible resource that our universities don’t even try to use.

It is also a duty of students to make higher education a real public good. Too many of them defend free access to university forgetting that receiving knowledge is a privilege that comes with the duty to use it as enlightened citizen.

I would like to speak to students and in particular to future researchers in human and social sciences who are aware of those issues. It is so easy to criticize the lack of financing for research and at the same time to keep its results to the insiders. In a society where tasks are more and more divided you have the opportunity you’re your time is allocated to the development of the tools that will make the society able to think about the project it wants. This privilege provides you with weapons that allow you to make the debate lively and therefore gives you the duty to use this privilege by being an active citizen. This is possible through many ways.

Get involved in politics, on the right-wing or the left-wing. Create your association or join another one, be it a sports association or an association on social work. Organize debates, take part in protests, talk about politics, give your opinion and listen to the others opinions. In one word, make higher education a public good by fully using what it gives you. By doing this, you will take your responsibility toward the society and in the same time you will give to your representatives the needed legitimacy to defend you.

Make higher education a real public good is the only way to assure its sustainability and public financing that will permit its democratization. It would directly reinforce the democratisation of knowledge and on the long run it is the only serious way to enable us to claim for a sustainable and important public financing toward the public opinion.