Are Corporations the Solution to Higher Education Issues?

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By Lena Miele

Welcome to the Millennial era!  In this era information, technology, personal expression, and freedom have more importance than ever before, especially in education. Prodigies and university drop-outs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have changed the way people communicate (and function) today, but they have also made us question what valued does post-secondary education hold in today’s society? In 2003, Kompf also posed this question by stating, “at some point in the near distant future serious questions will be raised about whether or not institution-based education will continue to be seen as a useful public service for advancing the causes of information, knowledge, and knowing” (p. 9). It appears that we have reached the distant future. Fellowships like Thiel established by Pay Pal co-founder offer students $ 100,000 USD to top undergraduate students to drop out of school to pursue technical projects to provide digital services for the public to make daily tasks easier (Metro News, 2016). Students of this fellowship demonstrate a no-regrets approach to leaving university because unlike past generations, a university degree is no longer a guarantee for job security (Metro News, 2016).

There are examples of prodigies and drops-outs to many debt-ridden, inexperienced, and unemployed university graduates who are concerned and frankly bitter about how the institution of higher education has failed them. University degrees and college diplomas are still required in the workplace, but there appears to be a disconnection between the academic world and the real life-work world. Many people are continuing with post-secondary education by enrolling in college or polytech programs (Coates, 2014) and post-graduate studies in hopes of gaining more skills in order to get permanent-full time employment. Taking this topic from the general public to the academy where graduate students are discussing the future of post-secondary education and how it can serve the needs and wants of students and the greater good of society, the following suggestions/issues surfaced.

Funding

  • Governments have cut funding for post-secondary education (Shanahan & Jones, 2007) which increases student debt
  • Universities that focus/ produce more research obtain more grant money. As a result, graduate students in any stream of graduate studies should be eligible for funding to help with education costs.

Experiential learning is of greatest value:

  • Students want more hands on experience in their field of study.
  • Co-op placements should be a compulsory component and credit granting.

Considering these suggestions, researchers in higher education have offered various alternatives for universities; however, an option exists and is flourishing today in academia which appears to be the current solution: private funding from corporations. This funding can and is doing the following:

  • Re-invent the university and provide space for teaching experiential learning. Professors in collaboration with corporations provide students theory with hands on This can be done through curriculum writing, in-class instruction, and co-op placements (CAUT, 2013; Hepburn, 2009). Students gain transferable work place skills because they are learning from the people who will potentially hire them in the near future.
  • Provide funding. Universities and students no longer have to rely only on the government for money. Corporations can expand the campus infrastructure, facilities, and research materials for students. They can also provide part time employment to students who wish to work for them (Bradshaw, 2012).
  • Keep the greater good of society with future generations at the core of education. Corporations working with universities (and students) are taking current ideas and concerns to make things better for the general public such as global affairs, environmental sustainability projects, and technology (CAUT, 2013).

Seems too good to be true…you are right it is… for some people such as those  who value the university being an educational institution rather than a “training arm” for corporations (Brown, 2013, para. 7). For those that value  ” teaching and […]research based on scholarly criteria, not on third party interests” (Bradshaw, 2012 para. 12), and having academic freedom of one’s own research ideas rather than simply “patenting” and “packaging” (Hepburn, 2009 para. 8) with a price tag, it is too good to be true, and frankly not worth it. For other people however, they see it as just another ends to justify the means– students still graduate with a degree and potential job offers.

References

Bradshaw, J. (2012). The tricky business of funding a university. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/the-tricky-business-of-funding-a-university/article4619883/

Brown, L. (2013). Corporate deals seen as dangerous for Canadian universities. The Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2013/11/20/corporate_deals_seen_as_dangerous_for_canadian_universities.html

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2013). Open for business on what terms: An         analysis of 12 collaborations between Canadian universities and corporations, donors, and governments. Retrieved from http://www.caut.ca/docs/default-source/academic-freedom/open-for-business-%28nov-2013%29.pdf?sfvrsn=4

Coates, K. (2014) University vs. college: Why pressuring your kid to go to university is a big mistake. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/university-vs-college-why-pressuring-your-kid-to-go-to-university-is-a-big-mistake-1.2755051.

Editorial (2012, Monday October 10). Canadian universities must reform or perish. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/canadian-universities-must-reform-or-perish/article556676/

Editorial (2016, Sunday February 07). Meet the Waterloo dropouts living the digital dream. Metro news. Retrieved from http://www.metronews.ca/news/toronto/2016/02/07/meet-the-waterloo-dropouts-living-the-digital-dream.html?cq_ck=1454874451396

Hepburn, N.C. (2009 May 8). The entrepreneurial university. Academic Matters OCUFA Journal of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.academicmatters.ca/2009/05/the-entrepreneurial-university/

Kompf, M. (2013). Social epistemology, higher education and cultural convergence. In  M. Kompf & P. M  Denicolo (Eds.), Critical Issues in Higher Education (pp. 3-13). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Lowrie, A. (2007). Branding higher education: Equivalence and difference in developing identity. Journal of Business Research, 60, 990-999.

Shanahan, T., & Jones, G.A. (2007). Shifting roles and approaches: government coordination of post-secondary education in Canada 1995-2006. Higher Education Research and Development, 26 (1), 31-43.

 

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9 thoughts on “Are Corporations the Solution to Higher Education Issues?

  1. It’s interesting how much of relevance to this is coming up in our online discussion this week… it gets at the purpose of the university – for education for societal good and lifelong better outcomes – or for a specific job.

    • Yes Dr. Simmons! It is great that there is so much discussion about this not only in our class but also within the media. I believe that the more we think and talk about universities–the what and the how faculty/disciplines teach can provide the answers to this question. I know it will take some time…

      • This blog entry brings up a question that I continue to debate myself. It is a more specific manifestation of Nicola’s point above – if we know that there is not a need for teachers in Ontario, why are we funding any spaces (in increasingly smaller and smaller amounts as per Chris Yendt’s article) BEd programs? In 2014, Brock alone graduated 746 students from the BEd program (All about Brock 2014-15, https://brocku.ca/webfm_send/34950) and a report from the Government of Canada indicated that the employment outlook for teachers in Ontario for the period from 2014 to 2016 was limited (The Government of Ontario, http://www.jobbank.gc.ca/LMI_report_bynoc.do?&noc=4142&reportOption=outlook). Many of our graduates are now going on to teach in other provinces and countries which seems like a poor return on our investment. Except when you consider it as an investment in the development of our children and as an opportunity for them to pursue studies in a field they are passionate about studying. That’s when the scale starts to lean toward funding universities for the greater good.

  2. Definitely a lot to think about, some of which could certainly be contentious depending on how it is debated. You raise the notion that, “…graduate students in any stream of graduate studies should be eligible for funding to help with education costs.” while one worth considering also has the alternative aspect espoused by many of my thesis colleagues, which is, given how scare funding is already becoming for upfront grants in the research stream and additional funds ongoing, why would funding be made available to those who do not participate (certainly not as actively) in the research process as those whose studies demand it? Is it not enough that our degrees will provide no differentiation between research and course despite how vastly different the levels of work required were?

    • Indeed Chris, this is a highly contentious topic. The tension surrounding this topic should demonstrate that careful consideration is needed when thinking about one’s motivations (intrinsic/extrinsic) of higher education and the ethical purpose of high education. The notion of funding for all graduate students was a point that came up during our class (“Issues of Higher education”) discussion about equal access to education amongst graduate students because regardless of the stream chosen, all students in this graduate faculty are Masters of Education students. From the mindset of your thesis streamed colleagues claiming that course-based M.ed students should not qualify for funding rather than question reasons as to why there is a scarce amount of funding only further magnifies my thoughts of misconceptions such as extrinsic motivations (which I like to refer to as) marketability rather than the ethical considerations that should be made when thinking about higher education. Simply because those that have chosen to be a thesis/MRP streamed student at Brock University who qualify for funding, buts not have a formal distinction on the degree does not mean that their research or degree should be more scholarly or socially valuable than a course- based Masters student’s degree. Nor does it suggest that because a thesis/MRP graduate student that publishes their work is valuable to scholarly circles or contribute any significant gains for the betterment of society. It has also been brought up in our class that not all research that is done is in fact good research. In which case, publishing can be considered a mere requirement to complete the component of the degree. This notion of one’s choice of research path should not restrict his/her vision to ALL the learning, discussing, researching, and application of knowledge that is occurring daily by M.ed students that chose course-based pathways to continue working in the trenches of publicly funded schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, colleges, etc., or those that are dedicated to one area of further research and study. So rather than graduate students thinking how is this M.ed degree (regardless of stream) contributing to the betterment of my position in life/ future position, graduate students should be thinking… is what I am doing making people or their chances/lives/experiences better…regardless of how many pages are written and published? Thank you for your insights!

  3. Lena and Chris, you both raise interesting points regarding funding for graduate studies. I often think that course-based should be funded as well, simply because it is still a form of research and still requires that students are engaged and producing something. I do not necessarily think that the same amount of funding should be allotted to each pathway (course-based, MRP, thesis), but that something should be provided in the form of an entrance scholarship. Part of the funding for full-time MRP students is that entrance scholarship. Why shouldn’t students in course-based receive at least that funding? Perhaps I am approaching this argument from a particularly biased-perspective in that I would have chosen the course-based stream over research had it been funded. I prefer course-work and class discussions with my peers over selecting one specific topic and dedicating my time to researching it.

    With regard to students choosing to continue post-secondary education through colleges or graduate studies to gain employment, I know that many of my friends, after completing their BEd, chose to continue on either by doing an ECE program at a college, an MA in Child and Youth Studies, or a MEd because they did not believe they’d secure a full-time teaching job in Ontario and didn’t know what else to do. They believed that more education, more credentials, was the answer. On that note, how many students are choosing to continue with their studies simply because they want more/need career options or specializations and not due to a love of learning or of a strong desire to do research?

    I often wonder what secondary students think of as the purpose of higher education and how it is being promoted to them by their teachers and guidance counsellors. Are these students thinking long-term with a specific career path in mind, are they choosing general studies because they are unsure but believe that the university path is the “best” path towards a career, or are they choosing programs that suit their interests, but not necessarily geared towards a specific career?

    • Courtney you raised a good point here! Challenging the current funding system and acknowledging the variety of work that is being done in various streams of the M.ed program at Brock demonstrates that students do care about how money is being spent and dispersed. An entry scholarship would do wonders for the often misunderstood course-based M.ed stream. Definitely something the institution should be investigating for the future of the program and its students. My only question which ties into the discussion about corporatizing universities is how and where will this funding money come from?
      I also appreciate the real life examples that you have included in your reflective questions about the notion of lifelong learners. This is of interest to me as well because if post-secondary institutions continue to create partnerships with corporations that enable them to have more authority within the teaching, researching, and hiring sectors of various faculties– what type of learning will be achieved? Will the love of learning and researching found at the university level be transformed in what Brown (2013) suggests as a training facility that produces highly skilled and trained university graduates solely for one’s corporation? To take this idea even further, is that what students really want/expect at the end of their 4 year undergraduate/Masters degree?
      Lastly to address your point about prospective PS students, as a high school teacher, I often make a point when I can to discuss PS pathways with my students–regardless of age. With the current research findings and public editorials in the news such as Ken Coates (2014) from CBC I have faith that high school teachers, guidance counselors, and students will learn that there is not only one path to success. Post secondary institutions have demonstrated a collaborative effort (i.e. High schools skills major presentation) to showcase and promote various programs and opportunities that are provided by both PS pathways. I think showcases such as these educate students, parents, and high school faculty about finding something you’re interested in can also lead you towards a career. Thank you for your questions and comments Courtney.

  4. Hi everyone,

    I don’t think anybody is saying that the MEd degree is worth any less if you did not complete research, but I think arguing that they deserve funding is another point entirely. Having the MEd course based pathway is not a common option for a master’s degree. Basically, Brock is giving students who aren’t interested in research a chance to complete further studies.

    The funding for the research-based students is a draw to have research minded individuals join the university. The university wants to produce research, and yes, although not all research is good research, the university is basically hedging its bets that a few great minds from the program will publish work with their name on it.

    I believe that we had a similar discussion in class where someone made the comment that the course-based students were there to help fund the research-based students. Nicola rebutted that, with our class as an example, with the number of students we had and other factors, the university wasn’t making any money off of our class. So if the course-based students were not making the school the money that it needs, why would they start giving funding to those students?

    On another note, I am one of those people who completed my BEd and then came here. But the reason why I choose this path was because I do like learning, the added credentials to put on a resume are just the icing on the cake. My opinion is that it isn’t as common as we think for people to be completing graduate studies if they do not already enjoy studying in some way. Why can’t someone’s motivations be job-related and they have a passion for learning? People are more complex than we give them credit for.

    Finally, Courtney, I think you hit the nail on the head when you were questioning what advice we are giving High Schools students about university. I have attached an article here from National Post that talks about how high school students are determining the future of our economy without having the right information to make their PSE choices.

    http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/widening-skills-gap-leaves-lost-generation-of-graduates-unable-to-find-jobs-in-their-field

  5. I read your post and the other comments on your blog Lena, and I was thinking of a different perspective/lens to address this corporatization from. Right now, there are very (oddly) specific things that all groups can and cannot donate to for PSE institutions. Any person or group can donate to student awards, or naming right of buildings/faculties (Ventura School of Education, coming soon), and a few other avenues to get their name on something. These are mostly limited to sponsorship and getting your name on a building to help build its reputation (Cairns Center, Goodman School of Business, Scotiabank Atrium/Hall).

    Just take a look at page 36 of the 2015-16 Brock University Budget, chart 12 (https://brocku.ca/webfm_send/36018)

    While this is over simplified, almost 40,000 dollars is spent just on student awards & maintenance costs alone. If Brock was able to court more private donors and corporations to donate to student awards, there could be some substantive savings. As for the maintenance piece, right now, government policy does not offer any sort of tax credit for a donation to maintenance costs (page 23, 113 million dollars in costs). The idea was explored in 2001 by a Senate committee of the Government Of Canada, and one of their possible solutions was to offer such a tax incentive, among other things (http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/371/fina/rep/rep09oct01-e.htm)

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