Sunday 18 December 2011

On an Idea for Public Education

The problem: public education at tertiary level in the humanities, in the UK, has been abolished. In some other places in the world it has never existed.  We now hear regular denials even that a Public Good is obviously constituted by an accessible system of advanced training in the great ideas and arguments that humans have come up with over the course of their history. 

There are large numbers of people, some of whom I know personally, who want to study but can’t afford it and are terrified of incurring lifelong debt. Some of them belong to the long-term unemployed. There are also many people, some of whom I know, who would love to teach them and are prepared to do so for free. Pro Bono edification.

The only thing that is stopping the aspiring learners meeting the aspiring teachers is the for-profit model that has been imposed on Higher Education, along with self-appointed professional managers. These people, often scarcely literate, work on behalf of neither students nor teachers but for themselves, thereby extracting large salaries.

One Solution: a really ‘open’ university--one so open that it is, in fact, free of charge altogether.  I propose a new model of an inclusive university which shows governments and Vice-Chancellors and ‘For-Profit Educators’ that all you actually need for education is a keen learner and a bit of inspiration and guidance from an expert and sympathetic teacher. Education is a consensual act between two people, who do not need to be 'managed'. The father of my children tells me that removing the greedy middle management, which skims layers of unnecessary renumeration off the fundamental encounter between student and teacher, is called by business people ‘disintermediation’.

Lectures could be ‘donated’ by experts and uploaded on; committed academics, with PhD students to support them, could donate an hour or two a week to run Skype, email seminars, and grade a paper; materials would need to be exclusively those which are available free-of-all-financial-charge on the web. I have already run such several such courses (very successfully) aware of the poverty afflicting some of my undergraduates, which has put book-buying beyond their reach. 

The study of ancient Greek and Roman authors is an ideal area for a pilot Humanities ‘degree’ course at The Really Open University, because the texts are almost all well out of copyright and available to anyone who can access the Internet (and I do know that unfortunately this will not be everyone as long as the Digital Divide persists).

The practicalities: the project would need
  • ·        A better name than The Really Open University
  • ·        Trained academics to volunteer a course curriculum or a lecture
  • ·        A public discussion of the best way to administer admissions (I for one would suggest simply a machine that measured motivation), the student/teacher interface, and accreditation
Intellectual culture is far too precious to be left to anti-intellectual managers and money men. Any comments and suggestions more than gratefully received.  ¡No PasarĂ¡n! Let’s disintermediate!

1 comment:

  1. I actually study Arabic, both language and literature, on this basis - free, online, all materials supplied - through Dalarna University in Sweden. There's nothing revolutionary about the approach there; it's just the way universities are. I'm lucky enough to be, like the Swedes, a European, and so get to share in it. For now, at any rate.