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The 21st-century retreat from public higher education By Michael Konczal, fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, sur le blog d’Ezra Klein, site du Wshington Post, 12 novembre 2010

mardi 16 novembre 2010, par Wendy

One striking thing about the current global recession, a crisis that has hit those in the United States with weaker education backgrounds much harder than others, is that one response has been the massive retrenchment, austerity and abandonment of the promise and ideal of public college education.

This is not only a U.S. phenomenon. One thing I learned in graduate school is that the best thing a professor can do is tell you who to read, so let me give you a reading list of the best of what I’ve seen recently. On the current situation in England, I recommend Collini here :

Much of the initial response to the Browne Report seems to have missed the point. Its proposals have been discussed almost entirely in terms of "a rise in fees." ... But the report proposes a far, far more fundamental change to the way universities are financed than is suggested by this concentration on income thresholds and repayment rates. Essentially, Browne is contending that we should no longer think of higher education as the provision of a public good, articulated through educational judgment and largely financed by public funds (in recent years supplemented by a relatively small fee element). Instead, we should think of it as a lightly regulated market in which consumer demand, in the form of student choice, is sovereign in determining what is offered by service providers (i.e. universities). ... This is more than simply a "cut," even a draconian one : it signals a redefinition of higher education and the retreat of the state from financial responsibility for it.

You see the protests in England, and there will be more in the United States. Especially after another round of fee hikes at the University of California system, 8 percent this time, along with University of California at Berkeley, the flagship of public education in this country, joining the "elite" club of the few institutions that charge over $50,000 tuition, fees, room, and board, for out-of-state students in that case. (That club is less elite than it used to be, as it’s roughly doubled in the past year from 58 to 100.)

Here’s UC President Mark G. Yudof’s letter explaining this, featuring such language as : "This system of premier research campuses, medical centers and national laboratories remains on course to serve coming generations of Californians" (note education and teaching doesn’t show up, merely research facilities whose products can be sold off after the fact) and nonsense like this that does little to inspire : "A mounting collision of irreversible forces-demographic, economic, environmental and social-could lead to a new dawn of progress and prosperity, mirroring other fundamental transformations that have occurred across the state’s history." New dawn ? This isn’t the talk of someone who is seriously trying to save the ideal of public education.

Here’s a series of articles by Peter Byrne about how the losses that UC suffered from bad investment decisions is much larger than the shortfall from state cuts.

The battle isn’t really over the humanities anymore (though the humanities are going to take the brunt of this), but the actual idea of education as a public good, the idea that someone can develop their full capabilities in the wealthiest nation on Earth without entering debt peonage. That said, Aaron Brady has argued (here and here) the clear case the problem proposed is usually one of bad faith, that humanities tend to cross-subsidize the sciences, as sciences like medicine are expensive to teach (labs, chemicals, machinery) and humanities like English are less so (a book).

Pour lire la suite du post sur le blog de Ezra Klein sur le site du Washington Post