With the situation surrounding the current pandemic, the substantial cost of university education is highlighted as protests continue over their decision to remain the full price despite much of the face to face academic curriculum going to an online system. More questions are being asked as to exactly where the money is going and how the perception of education is changing from an environment based on academia into a self-motivated corporate environment.
The unfortunate fact however, is that despite popular understanding, public higher education has been shifting rapidly more corporate for a long time.
As education develops and society has inherently become smarter due to the new innovations and technologies made available, universities have sought to grow in order to match such demand yet being purely government funded, they have been forced to find a way to cover these rising costs.
This has meant great cost cutting measures, most of which have involved devaluing and depriving the student body through the reduction of staff numbers, lowering yearly departmental budgets and committing to a strategy of massification which has seen a substantial rise in the number of students in a time when supplies are limited. Such is this desperation, that the University and College Admissions Service reported a 3.5% increase in yearly admissions despite the current climate, whilst prestigious institutions such as the University of Manchester saw their admissions acceptance rate soar from 42% to over 59% in just one year. This initiative has meant that they gain £9250 in fees from every additional acceptance with a clear focus on using the students as consumers rather than scholars.
In order to adopt this type of revenue progression, this has also meant the creation of new positions of power in order to oversee the increased number of students and led to the money gained and also saved shifting from a focus on education and achievement, to instead a culture of performance targets, results and improved efficiency with more new hires than ever in departments being lifelong business or marketing professionals, in direct contrast with the traditional structure.
Policy advancement is also a factor outside the campus too with heavy strategic marketing and promotional campaigns being heavily funded despite the concerns. In the new year when applications are submitted, as well as on A-Level results day there is now a minefield of primetime television adverts, online banners/pop ups and even billboards littered as institution after institution competes to fill every available admission slot, knowing just one new student from every timeslot allows them to recoup the expenditure.
Such heavy corporate strategy has been seen in its American origins to result in a system that eats millions with the only returns being derisory graduation rates, crushing student debt crippling the next generation and often even unappealing qualifications that have given no real education of value to the student and instead will just leave them with an expensive piece of paper they will never use. Such dangerous precedents are commonplace as a result of the continued financial focuses of education and opens up the European continent to the risk of some universities becoming privately educating bodies who can set their own rates for admission and slowly destroy the sector, especially considering the impact it would have on a system where very few such organisations exist.
This monetisation and categorisation of students as customers is not even the main focus of how companies can profit from universities, in fact they do it through the opportunities afforded to them by universities financial frailty and the opportunities this presents. Universities no longer focus on research and development of individual fields or their expansions of campuses for their own learning and growth opportunities but instead offer these as a way to allow businesses to profit from their clear advancements versus current knowledge.
Companies now are a clearly active part of the education system, with their wider integration within learning meaning that they no longer need to fund their own research due to their abilities to form long term partnerships with institutions that exchange knowledge for funding and backing via NDA agreements. Not only this, but the student customers are also a resource as educated employees who only further the service provided in return for the offering of basic salaries and even funding for master’s or doctorate degrees that specialise in using this educational opportunity to further the corporate knowledge that the business aims to gain.
Ongoing opportunity has meant that while previously unimaginable, land on campus universities and local areas surrounding city institutions has become prime locations for hotels and other private enterprises to attempt to monopolise the institution by being located on university land, a trend heavily featured with brands such as Costa Coffee and local convenience stores bringing often premium pricing strategies in an attempt to monetise education and take every student penny possible. In some cases, there is old accommodation blocks or car parks that become redeveloped as the desire to make profit overruns the natural focus, especially considering the increase in cases of brand-new centres of education costing multi millions, subsequently being sponsored or giving priority to private hire opportunities and forcing student classes to relocate in the name of corporate greed.
The scope of such, provides education with a new image of being a very profitable and exciting venture for anyone who has the money and capital to provide a positive association, while allowing to outsource and re-establish the meaning of university education.
Education is no longer focused on primarily providing a student education, but instead using this service in the most financially rewarding way possible even if it comes as a detriment to their core competency. The opportunity creates provides some incredible career development to those in certain fields, but for most they experience a rising number of fellow students alongside a decline in both the quality and availability of good teaching that is detrimental to their university experience. The corporate intent of universities is not purely self-motivated, with the government funding being inadequate to allow them to provide everything they offer and so they must rely on the acquisition of student fee payers and contributing private funding to continue operations.
Universities are clearly now a business venture that needs corporate assistance to survive, and with no change on the horizon, there is no signs of this doing anything but evolving any time soon while increasing the threat of possible, eventual privatisation.