Education is not a commodity

All of my posts so far have been positive in the title and talking about what education is.  This week, and possible a few more posts, will discuss what education is not.  I think it is also important to talk about what I think education is not. So, here goes.

The title of this post is a hat tip to my departed friend, whose company I dearly miss, especially our Thursday morning breakfast discussions.  On several occasions we would discuss the cost of education, how much tertiary courses cost, and how governments of all persuasions push the cost of education back on the individual.

By way of example, I looked at doing a Certificate IV in Mediation and Arbitration at a local TAFE.  Because I have a masters degree, the certificate would cost me around $5,000, and there was no government assistance. Needless to say, I couldn’t afford it and didn’t do the course.

During our many discussions, I pondered why education is so expensive and why universities market their courses like Coles or Woolworths market their products – or what I call the commodification of education?  I also pondered the large number of courses available and their value to society and the various professions?

The discussion moved to how universities, once the bastions of knowledge, have transformed to be nothing more than a business selling their product to the market.  Credibility is perceived by the number of students enrolled and the [perceived] value of the course.  The success of a university is measured by how many students gain employment after graduation.  What is not clear though, is how many were employed before graduation and whether they were employed in the field of their qualification?

I ask this question given recent figures that approximately 20% of students quit in the first year.  I have also read that around the same number do not work in their field of study – ever (sorry I can’t find the Australian source but here is a USA source that quotes up to 60%).

Also, why do we need so many degree graduates?  Is having a highly qualified pool of graduates a great thing when there are not enough jobs in their chosen field?  Who’s to blame for the explosion of academic qualifications?  Some blame business others say it is preparing for the future where a nation needs to workers who are more qualified.

Me, I am inclined to go along with a combination of business demands and clever marketing by tertiary institutions; along with various governments demanding that students complete year 12 and go to university.

Business has outsourced nearly all of their educational needs.  Even receptionists are now required to have some form of formal qualification such as a Certificate IV in Office Administration or similar.  Even a coffee shop worker needs to do a course in being a barista for anyone will look at giving them a job.

If we look at the VET sector, you need a certificate IV to teach.  A qualification that I think does not to prepare you for the rigours of teaching.  Then if we look at the university sector, you need a doctorate to be a lecturer – why?  I know many, many wise and experienced people who would make great lecturers, but do not have a doctorate, and have no aspirations of getting one.  But then, we look at the universities who will appoint an array of ex-politicians and/or business people, who do not have a doctorate, to various academic positions and boards – why? because, they will lift the prestige of the university and therefore their marketability in a commodity laden market.  Which gets back to treating education as a commodity – it is not and should never be treated this way!

Education, amongst many other things, is a pathway to a different way of thinking; a pathway to looking different at what the ‘adults’ tell us; it is a pathway to a better understanding of the world around us; and finally it provides us with a pathway to find out for ourselves.   I would not be so arrogant enough – unlike the educational institutions – to say that education is a pathway to a better life.  This would mean that there is something wrong with your current life, and perhaps there is not, perhaps you just want to expand your horizons.  Perhaps not…

Next week, on the ‘education is not’ theme – education is not indoctrination, but sadly this is what is happening in our modern day educational institutions.

Stay tuned.


5 thoughts on “Education is not a commodity

  1. Thanks for your thoughts Brian. Sadly I agree with you, that education should not be a commodity, but in fact it has become so. Rather, education needs to be seen as an investment for any nation in the modern age. The idea of investing in the people of our nation has been under constant attack for some time.

    In recent years I had heard that education was one of Australia’s top 3 exports. In this case, perhaps it makes sense to engage in some level of commodification. Like when a community centre provides full-fee-paying courses, but still subsidises the locals 😉

    • Hi Michael, thanks for dropping by. Your comments resonate with me, especially about preparation for the future. While invigilating an exam at work this morning I was reading a 1968 article by Benjamin Bloom – which will be the subject of a future post.

      I am happy with paying a reasonable price and I am happy to add a little on for the reasons you raise. But, when I get charged $5,000 because I have a masters, and someone without one gets charged about $1,000 for the exact same course is not right; or equal.

      Thanks again for dropping by and for taking time to comment.

  2. Pingback: Education is not a social engineering tool | Education is ...?

  3. Hi Brian

    You make some good points here, but I think that the terms that you use may be a little confused, mainly because you have more skin in the game than most.

    In my opinion, whether or not it should be education is a service and I think that you maybe want it to be more of a process, a way of imparting knowledge which is focused on the individual and not on the outcome (usually measured by some statistic).

    Knowledge on the other hand is very much a commodity, whether we want it to be or not, some commodities we pay for like a mineral or in the case of knowledge we might look at patents and others commodities we rarely do (or pay more minor amounts), e.g. air or water, just like you are usually taught some of the very basic things by your parents, like how to talk and walk, but you may also be taught values by a church or another organisation, like the scouts, which both cost more or less token sums.

    I would love to get your feedback on my perspective.

    Thanks, Jacob

    • Hi Jacob,

      Thanks for commenting. You make some interesting points, but I hold a philosophical objection to the selling of knowledge, but am also realistic enough to realise that some things need to be paid for. This duality does cause me some frustration at times.

      I agree that education is a service, and I want it to be such a thing. I do not want it to be a process, but I am afraid it is nothing more than a factory production system where a student enters one end and departs the other with a qualification – so have been declared competent, but in my experience, not always capable.

      You are right I do want a focus on the individual. My concern is that the behemoth that is now called the ‘education system’ has become so large and so focused on the education experience, they forget to focus on the individual. Even though their glossy advertising state they do, the logistics would indicate they truly cannot.

      I appreciate the reality that we pay for other commodities, and in a commercial world, like the one we live in, and knowledge has become one of those commodities. I do not have to like it and I think was the point of my post.

      Again, thanks for commenting, I hope you continue to visit and challenge my thinking.

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