Give education a chance

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SHAFAQNA – Education holds our 21st century. It is central to human progress and economic growth. We are witnessing a phenomenal transformation in information technology, neuroscience and scientific research. All these streams owe to the great leap of quality education. Now challenges to education look steep. Conclusions are looking stark.

Unfortunately, the perception about education has gone skewed. Missionary zeal once attended to education has dissolved into a business model. Education is not only the benefit of an individual, but also the value of thriving society. Believe in putting education first. That is how we should feel about education.

In the last decade, fee structures have surged to three fold in the US and UK Universities. Educational expenses have created fears and apprehensions in parents, mind and the new entrants at tertiary level education. Everywhere in the world wily efforts are being made to make education inaccessible to students who come from poorer backgrounds. Indubitably, locking out talent will corrode the vitals of society. It seems that the world leaders don’t have the heart to extend the social benefits of fulfilling the aspirations of young people through state-funded education.

It openly gives a sense that neoliberal shift is embedded in a pro-market instrumentalist approach to education, designed at producing a skilled workforce to consummate the corporate control global economic agenda of appropriation of people’s natural resources, for more money and more dominance. These policies are arguably structured to increase the pace of deregulation, privatization and commercialization of higher education inevitably resulting in far higher fee structures.

The systematic withdrawal of governments in the field of education and their devious efforts to make education a tradable commodity for profit generation is uncalled for. Today trade and commerce are getting precedence among the comity of nations.  In fact, we are living in a trade-obsessed world. Everything is seen through the prism of trade & commerce.

Growing commercialization and product value threaten whatever is valuable in education. Amid the process, the real victims are the people lower down the social scale. Only higher socio-economic group is the winner.

Sadly, the then Coalition government planned to increase tuition fee to £11,500. The very move mocked at a Lib Dem manifesto promise. The former Deputy Prime Minister jacked up tuition fee to £9000 in 2010. Nick Cleg made no visible effort to put stop to tripling fee surge. He made the Liberal Democrats vote for £9000 fee increase.

Now there is great unrest among the students and they are resorting to protest and strikes worldwide against commercialization in universities. In countries including Canada, The Netherlands, and the UK students have protested violently against structural changes, cuts in courses, privatization and least conducive atmosphere for academicians.

A month has elapsed and students at the University of Toronto are on strike against the growing neo-liberalization of undergrad education & scanty funding package offered by the university.

Students at university of Arts London protesting against cuts to the foundation courses, programs that are taken in preparation for university level art & design education. The protestors feel that all the process is marked by money grabbing spirit & motivated by privatization.

The London School of Economics is taking legal action against students who have been occupying a central administration room since March. They have their ire and grievances against privatization higher fee and lack of diversity in higher education. Would it be a game-changer? Is it something time sensitive? Thankfully, the issue stands resolved after the acceptance of nine demands of students. But the students have showed their resolve that they would fight against commercialism and free education along with international student bodies.

In university of Amsterdam, the students occupied Maagdenhuis Amsterdam to show their ire against commercialization of higher education.

Students are protesting and marching at the University of Tirana, Albania against daft law which will ensure privatization of higher education.

Even academics in Ireland have shown their discontent on the oppressive working conditions soaked in mercantile mentality. Even Helsinki University researchers are protesting against crass commercialization which hinders their rightful chances of growth and prosperity.

In the US, the prevailing conditions at the campuses are also bleak. In the US, income of parents stand squeezed. They are unable to support their undergrad children because of soaring tuition fee. Even the providers of the student loan programs are unable to cater to the real needs of the students. They are facing a financial mess and “business-like model”. Surging tuition fees are snatching options from hard pressed students. They are frazzled by exploitative moves and policies. In fact, murky stripes are looming large on students’ academic horizon and their future.

We must have this realization that education is a long and tedious process where the more you give away, the more you attain. When education comes to the forefront, the world gains the most.

Education, which falls in the category of “intangible goods” is not just about immediate results morphing into instant profit. It is about a long term process about multifaceted persons who may acquire most needed knowledge and skills to manage the world around them. Upfront costs of education do unsettle us but we forget its long term huge gains.

As we live in consumer-oriented economy, we have also become inured to the lure of profiteering. Instant profit is generated by physical products or “tangible goods”. We should not allow the world of consumerism, marketing and spate of product launches to overpower our lives and make us a pawn in the game of commercialism.

Shrinking educational benefits would be like toying with the aspirations of youth and ripping of their dreams. These times of change call for more contextually sensitive campus administration to iron out the problems of the students with sympathetic engagement. Indifference will reduce them to dumb image with a single dimension. It will snatch their creativity and potential. The state must reflect its heavy responsibility as guarantor and regulator of education to its individuals. Inevitably, it should be part of our collective consciousness. Greater autonomy be provided to universities under the thin cover of rigorous performance evaluation & accountability by promoting institutional audit or measuring internal quality process.

An optimal approach be embraced by the governments in evolving policies & strategies for mutually agreed outcomes after respecting their autonomy.

We must commit ourselves to a vision of light and knowledge available as basic human right.  It will be saner enough if we follow Ghana, a middle-income country, which has triumphed over her illiteracy and cyclical generational poverty by allocating 8% of GDP on schooling, higher than UK’s 6.5% & then the UN benchmark. These Africans have amazing forethought about the bright future of their own people.

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