Last week I attended a lecture by David Robinson from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) about the state of global education. The main focus was on the tertiary sector but it was also relevant to all levels of education and the news was not good. David pointed out that despite internationally consistent rhetoric about the value of education teachers are not being treated as valuable. There is a huge rising demand for tertiary education which has seen a 53% increase in student demand around the world since 2000. However the marketisation and casualisation of the education sector is not working well for quality and equality in education.
The “tenure to taxicab” phenomena in the US means that 75% of US academic staff are now non-permanent and they rush from job to job trying to supplement part time work with contracts from several institutions. There is downward pressure on salaries especially in the public sector and attacks on academic freedom and collective bargaining. Education sector people have seen pay cuts across Europe including of 15% in Ireland. Meanwhile “cross border” franchising of courses and e learning coincide with large classes and a lack of qualified teachers. There is now a virtual marking service for teachers as education becomes just another product on a global chain of consumerism.
The graphs David Robinson showed us these trends are very marked and are combined with an increase in control over teaching and research, managerialism and “academic productivity”. The endless assessment culture is being challenged by educators like Dian Ravitch who once championed. Charter Schools for George Bush but now calls for a recognition of educational integrity and what cannot be counted!
We are struggling with the league table dimension of National Standards but the horse has long bolted in USA where country and world rankings of schools become a proxy for quality.
One of the fascinating comparisons David made was with the subprime mortgage meltdown as universities in the US are now enrolling homeless people who never attend school to bring in more cash. However the United Kingdom is way ahead with student vouchers replacing teaching grants.
The United Kingdom model is based on ideology not results and the ideology is that direct Government funding of education is wrong! The public benefits of a fair public education system have been replaced by political incorrect gone mad!
However on a note of hope David Robinson spoke of the need to listen to voices such as that of Drew Faust of Harvard University who said recently that education was extremely valuable “for its own sake”!