Remember when Australia had free tertiary education? Yeah me neither. If you were born after 1989 you missed the golden age. The age when you could try things out and make mistakes. Now you pay for those mistakes. I’ve been billed for my lapse in judgement that was a first year linguistic subject and my extremely short lived sociology ‘phase’. Universities are becoming increasingly focused on profit and not allowing self improvement.
I went into uni hoping to expand my interests, to see if I could understand Camus, sit through Citizen Kane or get my head around at least one of those Bronte girls. But as I sat with the arts faculty staff I soon realised I was running out of time. Two weeks in to my degree and I was already behind, majors had to picked, interests had to be narrowed down. So I am yet to know who Kane is and what he was about or read a sentence of Emily and Charlotte. But you know what I am? Employable.
We are in the business of employability. Universities care more for marketable skills than knowledge. More frequently, Australian institutions are making policy choices that are based on financial returns rather than making a better place from students. Most recently, the cuts to the Arts program have implied Monash’s new focus. As Tess Dimos, National Union of Students (NUS) Clayton representative says, “these cuts are a demonstration of the fact that profits are the main thing that govern universities now.” They are now “built around a profit model which plays into the competition for students and money”.
Like any good corporation Monash has stayed very tight lipped about the funding choices made recently. In an email sent to staff and students Sharon Pickering, Dean of Arts has denied any Arts cuts, “the Arts Faculty Budget has not been reduced… The faculty has shifted away from a practice of overspending sessional budgets…”. However, Monash Arts is undeniably facing changes including, teaching staff with PhD qualifications being laid off, tutorial sizes increased to 30 students, consult hours being cut and limited feedback available.
And its not as if Monash doesn’t have the money, this year has welcomed a $225 million building for “Learning and Teaching” yet the Arts department has less teachers, less consult hours and less feedback. I don’t know about you but this seems like an odd choice of money allocation.
Monash Arts sessional also feels frustrated, “The students are being treated as quick cash which is used to gain access to senior academics who generate prestige for the university, but this costs the students their own educational experience.”
The commodification of education is a dangerous game especially when it’s the students and staff who lose out. Sessional staff are losing their jobs and students are losing their quality of education. Universities used to be immune to capitalism, they had higher ideals. Alas now they seem to adhere to the corporate model which spreads resources as thin as they can in order to maintain high profit rates.
Kate Murphy, senior history lecture at Monash believes “the essential function of a uni is not that of a business.”
This new model is prioritising more obviously employable degrees and cutting funds from less marketable degrees. Trust me I know it’s easy to overlook the graduate with a Masters of Philosophy. They may not be able to invent artificial intelligence nor discover a new life-saving vaccine but they, like many other arts graduates are an independent thinker capable of a full and informed understanding of current society.
“A society with a high number of Arts graduates is one that is sceptical and analytical, and is much harder to fool. An Arts degree is more important than ever,” Arts sessional said.
If universities continue to follow the model of profit over knowledge than I think they will lose the essence of education. Mrs Pickering may call it “active learning”, but that’s just university speak for small classes and less face to face teaching. Call it “active learning”, call it “moving away from the practise of overspending” it all means the same thing, Arts are meaning less and less in the face of University management. Which is sad because Arts student are amongst some of the most curious and engaged students here at Monash. I may be biased but I whole heartily believe that Arts graduate are some of the most qualified people. Not just because I have now I have written an essay analysing the cultural significance of Teletubbies or read Niche but because I am a critical and inquisitive adult. Even if I life up to the stereotype and end up being a barista, at least I’ll be a well-read and well-rounded one.