Thursday, March 24, 2005

Who really needs education?

It has been remarkable during the last few years how education - especially higher education - has turned from soft politics to hard politics. In a way one could see Tony Blair and the entire New Labour as one of the pioneers leading this change with his three priorities speech in 1997 (education, education and education).

When European Union has started to panic about its competitiveness, governments are panicking because of the ranking lists of universities. I at times feel that universities are faced with a paradox when governments cut down funding but expect more cooperation. But at the same time one must admit that universities - both students and staff - are extremely fixated to their ways of working and thinking.

I´d say that the small fixing here and there often does more harm than good. There really does not seem to be any great vision. The Nordic countries are extremely good in this, i.e. maintaining the equality aspect in the speeches but at the same time instrumentalising the system bit by bit.

In that sense I must say that the reform plans of the Dutch or the British government get more respect from me. Although I don´t like their policy, at least they are rather open in their instrumentalising and neoliberalising direction.

The Finnish system is traditionally based on
Humboldt´s idea of Bildung (enlightenment) meaning that students have been treated as adults, members of the community and they have had possibilities to design an individual set of subjects. The massification of the system (70 % of the age cohort in higher education) has made these ideals hugely difficult. The Bildung ideals fit very well to a small university and to an elite system. Now it often seems that there is no great plan. Higher education policy has become on-the-other-hand policy with lack of leadership. This is incredibly unfair to the young people studying with false expectations.

As I realised once again during the Creative Capital conference, governments are mobilising a counter-movement to the flexibility and disorganisation of today´s working life. I see a clash rather soon. Now more than ever we would need people with high socially consciousness, wide variety of knowledge and skills and willingness for crossover work. The 5-years-and-out-or-you-will-pay-a-heavy-price policy seen in several countries really does not answer to this need.

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