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The University as a Capitalist Service Organization



Let’s just rename the universities Division of Capitalist Services. Because that’s what they are becoming. First, there’s the overwhelming work put into destroying the arts, humanities, and, to a lesser extent, the social sciences because they are supposedly pointless and don’t lead directly to a job. That happens in any number of ways, from books and television broadcasters and President Obama talking about it to university administrations telling the students giving tours of campus to focus on STEM and business majors when showing prospective students and their families around. The number of majors in English, History, Philosophy, and the like is plummeting with nervous students and parents responding to all this pressure. On top of this is corporations not wanting to train any of their employees and thus effectively pushing their training onto taxpayers and students through forcing the public universities to do it for them. I have heard of cases as blatant as university administrators holding meetings with corporate heads, asking them what skills students need to have to get jobs at their companies, and then castigating lower-level administrators for the school not producing precisely those skills, messages that then become part of new general education programs and the like.

Another way the university has increasingly become nothing more than capitalist services is through the privatization of research. In other words, university administrators want professors’ research to directly serve corporations in order to bring in money. That happens in both official and unofficial ways. It’s not just an American problem either. The new prime minister of Australia is pushing for this nationwide:

The Turnbull government is set to overhaul the way university research is funded by dramatically downgrading the importance of publishing articles in little-read academic journals.

Prime Minister Turnbull wants to end the “publish or perish” culture in which academics are pressured to focus on constant publishing rather than producing work with commercial and community benefit.

In 2013, Australia ranked last in the developed world on the proportion of businesses which collaborate with research institutions on innovation.

Under one proposal, the government would entirely scrap the use of research publications from the way it allocates $1 billion a year in block research grants and PhD research funding, sources said.

Instead, in its innovation statement next month, the government will put more emphasis on research “engagement” and “impact”. The aim is to encourage universities to work more closely with the private sector to explore how their research discoveries can be commercialised.

Publications in books, journals and conference papers currently determine how 10 per cent of the $678 million funding for PhD research is allocated. Fairfax Media understands a major review into research funding, led by former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Ian Watt, will recommend removing this criterion altogether.

The government is also considering scrapping the use of publications as a criterion for $353 million worth of research block grants.

The transformation of universities into nothing more than capitalist services is detrimental to students and to the creation of knowledge. There’s of course nothing per se wrong with research that is useful to companies and students do need to be concerned about their future earning power, but turning the universities into nothing more than adjunct agencies of corporations does not serve anyone well except those corporations, who should be hiring smart Philosophy and French majors who have all sorts of interesting skills and capacity to think critically and learn complex material and then training them. But that might affect the next quarterly profit report.

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