Should Higher Education Lead to Employment? 8

Yesterday I participated in an, indeed, very engaging meeting. Nicklas Wykman, leader of the Conservative Youth Organization (Moderata Ungdomsförbund) visited Umeå and had a breakfast meeting with some of us from the Conservative Students of Umeå (Moderata Studenter I Umeå). Somehow the conversation developed around the issue of higher education which is a hot topic for every student, including me. As with the name of Lord Voldemort, there is also a Word-That-Must-Not-Be-Named in the Swedish academia, but as it is omnipresent in the modern Swedish debate on higher education, one can always sense it clearly in the air. Probably that is the reason why I reacted immediately when someone took up the issue of employability: “We should strive to adapt the higher education to the needs of the modern labour market, because higher education should lead to employment.”

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Employability is a buzzword injected in the national debate on higher education by the so-called Bologna process, an initiative with the ambition to create the so-called European Higher Education Area. In other words, employability denotes the “ability to gain initial employment, to maintain employment, and to be able to move around within the labour market”. As the homepage of Bologna process continues:

“The role of higher education in this context is to equip students with skills and attributes (knowledge, attitudes and behaviours) that individuals need in the workplace and that employers require, and to ensure that people have the opportunities to maintain or renew those skills and attributes throughout their working lives. At the end of a course, students will thus have an in-depth knowledge of their subject as well as generic employability skills.”

As a doctoral student I often find myself in a confusing predicament – on the one hand, I am still a student, so I should be wary about my employability. I should not over-educate myself beyond any reasonable opportunity of employment, because I am told that me being unemployed after five years of PhD studies would be a loss for the whole society. On the other hand, I am almost a part of academia, so I should be equally wary about the employability of my students. No unnecessary cultural references to Shakespeare or Ingmar Bergman, students need only the information that will help them in getting stable jobs!

Be it as it is, I am very passionate about both of my roles and I am particularly passionate about the ideal of academic freedom. I mean that universities should be the sanctuary of the academic freedom, safe-guarded from the state, politicians and other actors who try to steer the academia in a certain direction. Therefore it is not a surprise that I am sceptical about this employability-frenzy. In this case, it seems to me that the European politicians aim at re-orienting the university towards some political goal (the free markets?). Employability is an attractive and populist instrument for steering the academic nitty-gritty in this or another way, basically deciding upon what should and what should not be taught at universities.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not against the free market. Nor am I against that the university graduates get a well-paid and stable job. But I am against state intervention in the higher education in the name of the students’ employability. In my humble opinion, higher education should strive at encouraging students to think critically (and reflect) which leads to the further self-development of individual (and eventually to a job). After all, it is quite probable that individual might have quite different aims for his studies than finding a job. Fair enough, one might say, but higher education is financed from the taxpayers’ purse, should not such an investment bring some tangible dividend to the society? Maybe. But who says that a critically thinking citizen is not a value-for-money per se? Or that the graduate cannot re-pay his debt to the society later in his life? And finally why cannot we avoid such debates about higher education as “social investment” by simply re-introducing the study fees for higher education in Sweden?

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Creative commons c6ae3e51884b139b45a669ce829ac99646bf0ceb328fc95963f1703a58a032d0 CREATIVE COMMONS LICENCE ĻAUJ RAKSTU PĀRPUBLICĒT BEZ MAKSAS, ATSAUCOTIES UZ AUTORU UN PORTĀLU PROVIDUS.LV, TAČU PUBLIKĀCIJU NEDRĪKST LABOT VAI PAPILDINĀT. AICINĀM ATBALSTĪT PROVIDUS.LV AR ZIEDOJUMU!

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Andrim un citiem zinasanai 27.03.2009 00:30
Perngad tas Matthew Stewart raksts bija nopublicets Rīgas Laikā.

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> Andris 26.03.2009 16:22
Vai Jūs vispār esat spējīgs kaut ko pozitīvu par kaut ko pateikt? Visos blogos Andris tikai kašķējas un kašķējas. Nožēlojami.

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Pēteris 26.03.2009 16:22
Andris,
Thank you for your wishes! And thanks for the link, I am going to read it, because I find this method of teaching - combining the social science with examples from arts - very appealing.

At the same time, I respectfully disagree with you on the point of Peace and Conflict Studies. It is probably very Scandinavian subject, indeed. Nevertheless, it is as honourable academic subject as any other social science subjects. In other countries Peace and Conflict Studies are called International Relations or International Politics. In Scandinavia, Peace and Conflict Studies is to certain extent an equivalent to IR, but PCS have a particular focus on studying the origins of both inter- and intra-state conflict.

Furthermore, I disagree with you on Johan Galtung. I mean that I do not share his political views. But I would never doubt the whole discipline, just because one of the researcher's political views. He has contributed not only to the field of conflict analysis, International Relations, but also to the social science methodology. One might also disagree with his theoretical and scientific contribution, but then it is highly recommendable that one mentions concrete scientific counter-arguments. In my opinion, one should do better than to dismiss Galtung simply as a "politically disagreeable" scholar. The same applies to your comments on Afro-American, Multicultural and Feminist studies

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Andris Kristai 26.03.2009 12:02
>>> Unfortunately there are many countries, most of them in Africa, that suffer from effects of civil wars, and to be able to deal with those consequences you need special education just like to be able to cure a disease or extract oil.
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Droši vien. Neviena specialitāte jau nav slikta - vienīgi dažreiz to diskreditē slikti speciālisti.

Bet varbūt Jums ir kādi labāki piemēri? Vai Jums, Krista, vienmēr rodas priekšstats, ka mācību saturs kalpo universitāšu izglītības lielajiem mērķiem (vienalga - vai tās ir eksaktās specialitātes, humanitārās specialitātēs Latvijā vai "liberal arts colleges" rietumvalstīs). Lielos mērķus varam aprakstīt no dažādām pusēm (universitātei ir jābūt vietai, kas labi gatavo darba tirgum; ir jābūt vietai, kur nodarboties ar fundamentāliem un lietišķiem pētījumiem; vietai, kur studenti tiek audzināti par kritiski domājošiem kultūras cilvēkiem, utml.). Vai nekad nemēdz būt tāds mācību saturs (konkrētā pasniedzēja interpretācija par konkrētas studiju programmas priekšmetu), kad atliek vien noplātīt rokas - kāpēc kaut kas tāds vispār tiek augstskolā mācīts, un kāda no tā būs jēga pēc 5-10 gadiem, kad politiskā mode būs mainījusies?

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Andris Bezvārdim 26.03.2009 11:52
Es neko nesaku par privātpersonām, kuras var domāt visu, ko vien vēlas. Ja par ASV sāk rupji gānīties un slavēt totalitārus režīmus nevis kāds neformālis, bet institūta vadītājs, kas saņem valsts naudu - tas ir drusku apšaubāmi. Protams, tā nav mana darīšana - tā ir norvēģu nauda. Man tas kalpoja par piemēru tam, ka rietumu augstskolās mēdz mācīt kursus, kuru praktiskā lietderība (un arī saistība ar cilvēka iespējām atrast darbu) ir visai apšāubāma. Sk. rakstiņu "Peace racket" (Miera rekets) - http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_3_peace_racket.html . Nav jau vainīga "miera un konfliktu studiju" zinātne kā tāda, bet gan konkrētie tās praktizētāji. Galu galā PSRS laikā mācīja tādu priekšmetu "zinātniskais komunisms". Grūti iztēloties dīvaināku nodarbi, kā studēt PSKP kongresu un plēnumu materiālus, un pamatot, ka partija ved sabiedrību pretī gaišai rītdienai. Tomēr no šīm katedrām ir izaugusi visa mūsdienu Latvijas politoloģijas zinātne. Miķelis Ašmanis, Artis Pabriks un daudzi mūsdienu diplomātiskā korpusa darbinieki, kuri pelna nopietnu naudu. Galvenais ir nevis KO māca, bet KĀ māca un KAM māca.

Piebildīšu, ka NATO operācija ir principiāli atšķirīga no nacistu izraisītajiem kariem. Konkrēti NATO operācija Dienvidslāvijā bija visās nozīmēs labs un veiksmīgs karš - tika atjaunota rietumvalstu uzticamība (credibility), kas bija iedragāta pēc holandiešu "miera uzturētāju" fiasko Srebreņicā un nesekmīgajiem mēģinājumiem apturēt slaktiņu Sarajevā. Tika nodrošināts ilgstošs miers Balkānos un visai pasaulei nodemonstrēta Krievijas klientu militārā mazspēja. Visas operācijas laikā NATO neesot bijis neviena kritušā. Militārās stratēģijas speciālisti to uzskata par priekšvēstnesi "jaunas paaudzes karam" - tādu armiju, kura izmanto precīzu, satelītu savāktu informāciju, optimālus uzbrukumus pretinieka vājākajām vietām, modernu propagandu un kara mašīnā integrētus plašsaziņas līdzekļus (laikam arī militārus robotus), Miloševičs nevarēja uzvarēt ar visiem saviem tankiem, bruņutransportieriem, lidmašīnām un zaldātiem (turklāt liela daļa no tiem nekad nekļuva par NATO uzlidojumu mērķi). Bija, protams, arī šim karam netiešas negatīvas sekas - tas dažās aprindās radīja nepamatotu optimismu par to, ka visus karus turpmāk varēs uzvarēt tikpat ātri un viegli.

Un, starp citu, žēl, ka skolās vai vismaz augstskolās maz māca Homēru oriģinālvalodā. Domāju, ka tieši šajos senajos tekstos ir risināti cilvēcei svarīgi un mūžīgi jautājumi par to, kas ir karš, kas ir upuris, draudzība, pienākums. Cilvēki, kuri klasiskās valodas bija apguvuši, bija kultūras milži - tādi kā Rainis, Endzelīns, Pauls Stradiņš u.c. (Tāpat arī rietumvalstīs - Dž.Bentams, Dž.S.Mills, u.c.) Mūsdienās Raiņa vietā mums ir tādi seklāki kultūras darbinieki - viņi māk uztaisīt pārdodamu produktu (arī grāmatas, mūziku, teātri), bet viņi nepaceļas līdz tām filozofiskas domas virsotnēm, kādas tās bija 20.gs. sākumā. Paguruma un domas sekluma dēļ arī mūsu pazīstamākos politiķus šobrīd sauc nevis Čakste un Meierovics, bet gan Šķēle un Šlesers...

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Krista > Andris 26.03.2009 11:39
Just because you don't understand something doesn't qualify that as "unnecessary crap"! For example, I have a friend who's got a MA in Peace and Conflict Resolution from a Swedish University and she's just spent several fascinating years working for the UNDP in Liberia - a post-conflict country. Unfortunately there are many countries, most of them in Africa, that suffer from effects of civil wars, and to be able to deal with those consequences you need special education just like to be able to cure a disease or extract oil.

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Bezvārdis 26.03.2009 08:38
To Andris: USA was comparable to Nazis at the time of Bombing Yugoslavia. That's a fact. I suppose that your attitude to this demonstrates that you failed to comprehend the courses which you call 'crap'. Unfortunately even learning all works of Homer by heart would not help you understanding why bombing Yugoslavia was highly problematic and close to war crime. Perhaps for the sake of liberating your mind it's good to switch off TV sometimes and go back to university? This might not help your employability but would do good to your intellect.

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Andris 25.03.2009 20:38
No unnecessary cultural references to Shakespeare or Ingmar Bergman, students need only the information that will help them in getting stable jobs!
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As Peteris noticed, such juxtaposition is a "false dilemma" - Shakespeare and a stable job need not be mutually exclusive. As convincingly shown by a philosopher, who later became management consultant (Matthew Stewart, "The Management Myth" - http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200606/stewart-business ), ancient philosophy is at least as good preparation for management positions than any prestigeous M.B.A. degree. An entertaining version of the same argument can be found in "Major Barbara" - a play by Bernard Shaw, where a scholar of ancient Greek literature becomes a director of modern explosives factory.

Nevertheless, there are certain subjects taught in universities, that are unnecessary crap. This is caused not by the field of study itself, but by certain postmodern attitude of some professors that obscures any usefulness of the subject. I could come up with examples of such crappy postmodernism even from my own profession (IT and mathematics), but the usual suspects are well known - certain parts of English literature, Feminist studies, Afro-american studies, Multicultural studies etc. There is even such a thing as "The International Peace Research Institute, Oslo" (people in Scandinavia push their own crap). Its founder and longtime director Johan Galtung is famous for his sympathies of Fidel Castro, Mao, comparing USA to Nazis (because of bombing Yugoslavia in 1999). Certainly, all kinds of "crap studies" may lead to well-paid jobs, but such people are highly dispensable. I'm not sure, how many students, who major in "peace and conflict theory" can find jobs during crisis; and especially, how many of them would be needed during wartime. Therefore the whole "peace science" concept seems corrupt.

On the other hand, no employability criteria should decide, whether students pursue academic excellence in serious humanities - classic and modern languages, literature, history, etc. It would not benefit society, if we convert universities into "vocational schools" (latviski: "arodskolas", "profenes") only concerned for preparing professionals for certain big businesses. Misguided employability can be blamed, why many Computer Science and IT professionals learn so much superficial knowledge about IT projects, and so little mathematics and physics. Nor would be much better, if universities would fully comply with the W.von Humboldt's vision (19th century Germany) - i.e. would become purely academic places, where to do science and create new knowledge (no matter how obscure and irrelevant), but would not focus on any education of the new ruling classes, providing them with a sense of direction, patriotism and ethical guidelines that make university graduate a gentleman. When we see how directionless are some politicians in Latvia (even those, who presumably are well educated), the one thing they probably lack - is any subjects that build not only knowledge, but also enable them to answer all great philosophical questions that may arise during their lives.

I wish Peteris the best luck of completing his doctoral work!

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