Education As A Trap

Selling A Dud Product With Gowns

It’s got to be those black gowns, right?

Here’s an article that might dissuade people of the value of tertiary education as education.

A group of journalism students took my undergraduate university course on entrepreneurship and innovation. They were bright, creative, fun to teach and strong communicators. What a pity most will never work in a newsroom, such is the pressure on media companies to cut costs.

How many other university disciplines educate far more students than needed? How many marketing students are needed as technology drastically cuts marketing costs? How many graduate accountants, lawyers or technology students will be needed as firms outsource work offshore?

How many PhD students will find work as full-time academics as the Federal government cuts university funding and if massive open online courses reshape higher education?

Will there be a point where the supply of university graduates exceeds demand by so much that students no longer see sufficient value in spending three of four years at university, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and finding their degrees count for less upon graduation?

And what will happen to a potential glut of university graduates in certain industries?

You can just see this. A university somewhere teaching journalism or media or mass communication or something of that ilk. And all these students are in there paying huge amounts of money hoping for a career in their chosen field and of course the field is collapsing in the real world. The University is offering a course that bears very little resemblance or relationship to the real world situation of the industry. So most of these kids will graduate and become unemployed – or be forced to do something else.

The universities are now market driven, so they offer up courses depending on what’s in demand. But this might not reflect the real marketplace for jobs. I keep thinking about the stupidity of the film industry that had a premiere film school churning out directors and cinematographers and failed to grow in line with the people coming out. Walk-off HBP told me years ago about his experience as a graphic design student and how the vast majority of the graduates who graduated with him did not work a single day as a designer.

And once a upon a time this was okay. It was okay because the graduates weren’t burdened with dirty big debts to HECS and whatever other schemes are going at the moment. You sort of wonder how this is going to play out. Consider for a moment the Baby Boomers  in Australia got ‘free education’, some tuned in dropped out but inmost part, they benefited greatly from this. Generation Y is being saddled with dirty big amounts of debt and being told they can do whatever they like when in fact there is a major restructuring of all industries coming our way. Not only will they be Generation Jobless, they may well end up being Generation Bankrupt.

Of course they could inherit grandpa Baby Boomer’s money and pay off debts that way. They do say what goes around, comes around.

Hollowing Out Your Future

The scary prognostication made in the mid to late 1990s was that we were staring down at a 90-10 future where 90% of the work will be done by 10% of the people and everybody else was kind of redundant. Since then we’ve seen massive waves of what Schumpeter called creative destruction of value where new technologies and business models abruptly consign old business models to the dustbin of history.

Here’s an article that caught my eye today.

Jaron Lanier’s latest book, Who Owns the Future?, begins by noting an instructive coincidence: the bankruptcy of the photography giant Kodak occurred within months of Facebook’s billion-dollar acquisition of the photo-sharing site Instagram. This would be just one example of the destructive dynamism of American capitalism, a process through which old companies are overtaken by new technology and new firms more in tune with the needs of customers — and that perhaps benefits us all.

Except for one thing, that is: whereas Kodak employed 140,000 workers during its heyday, Instagram employed just 13 people when it was purchased in April 2012.

“Where did all those jobs disappear to?” Lanier asks. “And what happened to the wealth that those middle-class jobs created?” Lanier’s answer is that the new “information economy,” which is now superseding the manufacturing economy, is developing in such a way that the rewards are filtering to an elite few at the expense of everybody else.

That would be because any rationalisation would streamline the flow of capital back to the investor. That is what productivity and economic rationalism really mean. Lanier’s been saying this for a while, and in many ways this lines up with the 90-10 future.
Anyway, seeing that we’re talking about education, and journalism and educating journalists just before, I think you should read this bit too:

The first victims of this business model have been journalists, musicians and photographers. Lanier points out that the technological punditry has often cheered the demise of these careers as sources of secure middle-class jobs in their enthusiasm for a cheap, bountiful online experience. But as the “real” economy becomes more and more automated, what information-based work is safe from a similar fate? Education seems to be the next industry primed for the sort of disruption that the music industry faced 10 years ago, as the cost of education continues to rise at the same time the tools necessary for self-directed learning are increasingly at our fingertips.

Now, that’s depressing.

The problem is that we’re not really talking education. We’re talking vocational training. the real aim of education, the enlightenment project as such came to a shuddering halt in 1970. It came to an end because essentially universities were being asked to be relevant to a post-modern technological society when in fact they had their roots in medieval politics. And so education slowly got supplanted by vocational training – and most people who couldn’t distinguish between the two chose to take vocational training as something that has a superior outcome.

If you really want to know why our cultural life is so poor in Australia, the quick answer is that our universities turned hard towards the course of vocational training at the first sign the changes were in the air. I mean, really! Who needs education? Who needs to know about literature or philosophy or art or music? What good is this stuff when you can earn good money perfectly well, driving trucks out in the mines in Kalgoorlie or wherever!?

Philistinism is everywhere you look; and in saying that I don’t mean ‘punks’. I mean philistines that don’t even know the context of punk. But they’re raking it in.

I know people wax lyrical about Whitlam and Hawke Keating governments but really, they were as culpable as John Howard in ruining education and supplanting it with vocational training. We really shouldn’t be surprised when the end result is an intellectually dishonest Julia Gillard and intellectually blighted Tony Abbott currying for our votes. The damage has been done. The rest of it is watching the Titanic go down – feel free to shuffle the deck chairs.

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