Sunday, May 13, 2012

Times, they are a changing

As is noted at the beginning of this article in the Guardian, things have changed significantly in the business world over the years - though not necessarily I suspect, for the better. Not to say that things didn't need to change from the way they were, more that the direction they went in wasn't the best - thanks neo-liberal school of economics. Anyway.
I got to that Guardian article via one of Ben Goldacres posts (seriously, why would you not already be subscribed to his posts). I'm going to assume that Dr Goldacre is not suggesting that the changes are being mooted are necessarily going to be universal. I certainly hope they're not. Again, I think it's a case of things need to change, but this time, hopefully we'll manage that change better. I find it interesting though, because I've been seeing glimmers of people wanting to enact change here. Though the idea didn't originate here (or at least, I don't think it did), in Auckland we have a group called the University without conditions. It's an interesting idea, springing from the idea that the continuing decrease in funding to our universities and the continued push towards making our universities more responsive to the needs of business, is resulting in the loss of something essential to an education.

As an idea, it has it's problems. Namely that while it might be able to provide an education, it is not able to enable a recognized qualification. Which, to be fair, is not something they're trying to do.  And ideally it's be good if some lessons could be taught out of the times/locations that are primarily convenient to current university students. I don't think an education should be the preserve of people who have committed to one full time. The big problem though I think is that anyone can hold a lecture, which is going to hurt quality control. Not saying I have the answers, and the observations of the particular problems are an aside really. What's interesting is that someone has seen a problem and they are trying to work around it. It's an extension of the hacker pathos that was present in early internet days. See an obstacle, route around it.

I'll have to go looking for the articles as well, but ages ago, I recall Nature reporting on a move in China to get people into employment at a certain level. They weren't pushing people to continue their formal education. So instead of doing a PhD, there were some students getting snapped up by the big companies with research divisions and getting trained further there. Which I thought was a good idea. Which would be even better if courses outside of your specialty where available without a full time commitment, so as to be able to round an education whilst getting the benefit of training with people doing the latest research.

The universities can't remain as they are. As they continue to mouth the words innovation and excellence, they sound  more and more like politicians who know and continually use the buzzwords without having an understanding of what they actually mean. Or being unable/unwilling to change the system. Which means that if they continue on this way, they'll be increasingly detached from the real world (clue, the real world is not just what businesses want) and eventually, they will die.

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