The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Emphasis on profit overlooks the essence of higher education, stumps post-secondary growth

By in Opinions

The Carillon (University of Regina)

Look at all that sweet, sweet revenue.

Regina (CUP) — Universities are corporations, my friend.

Or at least that’s what the University of Regina’s Academic Program Review would have us believe. In its conclusions, the U of R’s review is illustrative of wider Canadian post-secondary trends.

While the process has made the university’s constricted financial situation more public, it is also revealing attitudes toward education held by university elites. One attitude that has been revealed is, not surprisingly, that the university should be run like a business. Inherent in this is a limited, literal definition of profit dependent on how much money the university can extract by providing a service to its consumers, students. With this model, the university aims to rely less on government funding and more on tuition and other sources of revenue. In other words, the work of the university is being reduced to its immediate monetary impact within the university itself.

This understanding, however, is an extremely limited one that ignores the many ways in which a university serves society. While we can certainly point to the profit/loss margins of a university, this thinking often leads to the devaluation and outright ignorance of the more subtle and intangible benefits the university provides.

Education in the arts and humanities fosters a citizenry capable of critical thinking and creative innovation. While these skills are not as immediately profitable as a civil engineer’s ability to draw up the plans for a sturdy bridge, they are essential for any successful post-industrial society.

Investment in the fine arts, arts and pure sciences is much like capital investment into buildings on campus. Without the buildings, the university ceases to exist.

Without education that cannot be directly reduced to profit, the “university” ceases to exist and becomes a technical college. Proper funding of these programs is an investment in cultural works that don’t necessarily turn a handsome profit but do enhance society — things like paintings, books, sculpture or music.

It is also an investment in the structures that maintain and improve culture.

The suggestion that the university needs to see a fiscal return on all investments in education ignores the fact that some government investment is converted by the university into something that is more meaningful than currency. In effect, the policy of reducing the usefulness of a university to how “sustainable” it is — read: how much money it makes — is self-defeating.

Funding post-secondary education is not a waste of money in any sense of the word. It is an investment in the creation of things that make people’s lives more fulfilling. A more highly-educated society is ultimately a happier society, as healthy investments now in education provide a cultural infrastructure that can create wealth in the future in the form of art, literature, scientific breakthrough and so on.

It is also unfortunate that the university seems unable to dispel this simplistic economic understanding of education, instead determining to manage cuts and refocus its operations to meet this simplistic understanding of the world.

Those of us who disagree with this model need to ask why we’ve been ineffective at making a case for post-secondary education that is not solely driven by a desire to make money, and then hold whoever is responsible accountable for this failure.

Photo: University of Saskatchewan/Flickr

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