A few decades ago mankind had its higher institutions to stimulate people to do research and to create new things.
In 1963, the Robbins inquiry into British higher education, which set the framework for the expansion of universities over the next few decades, argued that learning was a good in itself.
‘The search for truth is an essential function of the institutions of higher education’,
‘and the process of education is itself most vital when it partakes in the nature of discovery.’
Governments wanted everybody to be able to go to higher education and offered universities as a tool for everybody. To do that they lowered the standards all over Europe and tried to come to a general system where many could be offered some basic knowledge and sufficient material to start looking for a job.
Higher education came to matter for the people because it had to be the opening for a job and had to help produce economic growth, which in turn had to contribute to national prosperity. The value of education, in other words, became in first instance economic; universities having to be good because they should be profitable for the individual, for corporations and for the nation.
Previously universities where used to have a field of interest and to create a background for research and innovation. At the university there was to be a relationship between the professor and the student, each stimulating each other to go for deep research and innovation, helping to further the society, more than helping the self.
Though the politicians had an other view on those institutions which became considered more a tool of our society to control others and to create consumers. The lecturer and broadcaster Kenan Malik also sees a a transformation in education that is rooted in three trends:
the growing view of universities as businesses, of students as consumers and of knowledge as a commodity. But there is a fundamental difference between being a student and being a consumer, and between acquiring knowledge and buying a commodity.
Politicians did not like so much the thought of diversity and as such all institutions had to become of the same breed. Multiculturalism as a political process had to be opposed, overlooking the demand that we must recognise, affirm and institutionalise cultural differences in the public sphere. For many when they look at and talk about diversity, it is meant that their world is a messy place, full of clashes and conflicts. Often they do not see the value of such diversity and conflict zones. They forget that such clashes and conflicts are the stuff of political and cultural engagement. Diversity is important, not necessarily in and of itself, but because it allows us to expand our horizons, to compare and contrast different values, beliefs and lifestyles, make judgments upon them, and decide which may be better and which may be worse. Having different opinions on different matters and allowing them to exist one next to the other allows us to engage in political dialogue and debate that can help create a more universal language of citizenship and helps to create new paths. Though Malik warns
But it is precisely such dialogue and debate, and the making of such judgements, that multiculturalism as a political process all too often attempts to suppress in the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’. The very thing that’s valuable about diversity – the clashes and conflicts that it brings about – is what multiculturalists most fear.
When we look at Europe and its institutions, it looks like they wanted to create a monotone soup. It looks like they wanted to created a general educational front where only one similar version and vision is allowed.
this brings us to another irony about multiculturalism: multiculturalists insist that society is diverse, but somehow fail to see the diversity of minority communities. On the multicultural map, diversity magically ends at the edges of minority communities. Multiculturalists tend to treat minority communities as if each was a distinct, singular, homogenous, authentic whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined primarily by a singular view of culture and faith. In so doing, they all too often ignore conflicts within those communities. All the dissent and diversity gets washed out. As a result, the most progressive voices often gets silenced as not being truly of that community or truly authentic, while the most conservative voices get celebrated as community leaders, the authentic voices of minority groups.
Education is not a product but a relationship between student and teacher, and a process by which knowledge transforms the individual. When someone buys a car or an insurance policy, he or she is purchasing a prepackaged, ready-made commodity to satisfy a specific need. Education is about creating critical thinkers whose skill is precisely the ability to challenge ideas that are prepackaged or ready-made.
Question today is in what way are the majority of universities still the hub of independent research and creativity. In which way are they not controlled and guided by funding from the industry, so that certain ideas may not be challenged?
Once students become consumers, they come to look upon ideas, not as ways of understanding the world, but as possessions they can trade for a better job or greater social prestige.
The titles which have now a lesser value, make it that people can not do much with their Bachelor and one Master, making them to need more than one Master, which sometimes have the ridiculous name Master after Master. The levelling up (or better ‘down) to have equivalent degrees all over Europe did not secure equivalent good education and created not a guaranty for a job at all. Therefore today people are looking even more if a certain institute can provide for interesting jobs. But whether or not a University provides a good education or not cannot be measured simply in terms of whether its students end up in a good job.
What a student-as-a-consumer will not want are all the things that truly define a good education – difficult questions, deep reflection or challenging lecturers. These will be seen not as means to greater understanding but as obstacles to attaining a good degree.
writes Kenan Malik in the Observer column 18 March 2018, under the headline ‘Let’s not give up on the idea that a good education is a search for truth‘.
The last few decades when I was teaching I saw how the subject matter had to be made easier and how the schools and education boards wanted to see higher marks whilst the press pushed for comparison tables creating a false picture of what would be the good schools. Lots of people looking more at the high ciphers instead of the real quality of the education given at a certain school or institution. Everything seemed to turn around evaluation-results and the amount of students that got from one degree into the other without to many problems. This made that many schools came to think that their purpose is not to impart knowledge and encourage thinking but to show children how to pass exams or to get them through the system.
too many children whose curiosity and love of learning has been expunged by a system whose sole aim is to teach how to wheedle that extra mark at GCSEs.
Having been interested what was behind something or how things evolved as well how other ways could be developed I always stimulated my pupils to dig deeper and to try out innovations. In my eyes we as teachers had to create the new generation who could stand on their own legs and in turn also could create new things, even if it required to go in a totally different direction than ours.
To me what the new generation pupils had to bring should not have to be put in social and capital gain. Not every subject offered at a high school or university had to offer the student a finished job.
The idea that there is more to education than value for money, or that ‘self-betterment’ can be understood in more than monetary terms, may seem hopelessly romantic in our rigidly utilitarian age. Not every social gain, however, can be measured in terms of numbers or cash.
Any decent society needs to encourage critical thinking about ideas, beliefs and values, thinking upon which no price tag can be placed. A society that will only think when it is profitable to do so is one that has lost its mind.
We do not need everybody to think the same.
Clashes and conflicts over ideas and values and beliefs are often valuable and necessary for social change.
In attempting to minimise such clashes in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’, multicultural policies do not in practice get rid of conflicts but rather transform political and ideological struggles into cultural and communal clashes. Political struggles unite across ethnic or cultural divisions; cultural struggles inevitably fragment. Political conflicts are often useful because they repose social problems in a way that asks:
‘How can we change society to overcome that problem?’
To view racism politically, for instance, we need to ask,
‘What are its social roots and what structural changes are required to combat it?’
We might disagree on the answer, but the debate itself is a useful one. Another way of putting this is that political conflicts are the kinds of conflicts necessary for social transformation.
There has been too much attention to avoid diversity and to create political equality which only becomes possible with the creation of a ring-fenced public sphere, which everyone can enter as political equals, whatever their cultural, economic or ethnic backgrounds. Malik agrees that
The creation of such a sphere is one of the great advances of modernity. The demand for the public recognition for individual or cultural differences is, on the other hand, a demand to erase the distinction between the public and the private spheres, and hence to undermine the possibility of real equality.
In case we want to have a booming creative educational front we should make sure that we give place to a truly plural society in which citizens have freedom to pursue their different values or practices in private but also in public. To get an opening for a free development and renewal we should take care that in the public sphere all shall be treated as political equals whatever their racial, cultural, sexual or faith differences.
Today, however, pluralism has come to mean the very opposite. The right to practice a particular religion, speak a particular language, follow a particular cultural practice is seen not as an individual freedom to be defended in the name of liberty but a public good to be enforced through the state. At the same time the rights of individuals to do, speak or even think as they please, their right to challenge or criticise others’ ideas or values or beliefs, are increasingly curtailed by the state in the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’ and to ensure that different groups are not ‘offended’.
The notion of equality has, in this process, has also become transformed, from meaning the right to be treated the same despite one’s differences of culture, ethnicity or faith to meaning the right to be treated differently because of them. It is an odious shift. It’s time we challenged the new reactionary views of both pluralism and equality.
Politicians should try to have the public understand that multiculturalism can be for the good of a society, enriching it and creating grounds for new developments and cross-pollination.