april 2008

In order to get the most out of higher education all parts that relate to it must interact with each other. That means students, universities, commerce and government.

Students gain knowledge from all the others and all of them are future work places that the students need to relate to. And of course they offer services that students might have use for – everything from products to public transportation. Universities want happy students, capital from companies and help to find housing for their students. The commercial world want competent future employees, access to the latest research and students that can live near both their university and the company. The government always win if other people win, and they too need both future employees and access to research.

Some places understand all of this – Helsingborg (that has it’s own campus that is part of Lund University) for instance. Or this year’s ”student city of the year” – Skövde.

My own city (Lund) however… Let’s not talk about it ok?


Yesterday I attacked some professors who think that they are more important than dozens of students because they attacked students who want to get employed after graduation. The thing that had gotten them so protective was the the Masters programme in modern western thought was stopped because it didn’t discuss the issue of employability.

Today I present examples of what I meant that they should have talked about during that validation process.

For instance this guy, Dan Munter, talk about how philosophers are needed to look at the bigger picture – but tend to gaze at their navels instead. Still, some philosophers work as consultant helping companies or people get their priorities straight.

Think about it. Integrate education with the rest of the world.

Last spring the departments of Philosophy and History of ideas suggested a new Masters programme at Lund University. It was supposed to be a Master of modern western thought. The validation process was terminated due to insufficient material about the employability of students who’d enter this program.

This has raised a number of concerns amongst the population. And when I say population I mean well established professors in  the humanities. They fear the risk of loosing the great Humboldt ideal that universities should exist outside the rest of society as a reserve of knowledge and education. Preferably it should exist outside the normal space-time continuum.

Several of these professors seem to think that just because students want to have a future after graduation, they no longer get a fully qualified education.  ”It is not our place” they say. But they give no answer to what these students are supposed to do with their education…

The professors behind the article linked above, or the people in the tv show that spawned the debate never stopped to ask the students. Students that were present when the decision to drop ”Modern western thought” was made. And most of all – the students that are the victims of their agenda.

The faculties of humanities and theology where the Masters programme would have run currently educate around 3 500 students. An educated guess is that some 2000 students apply to courses at a basic level in a subject at the faculties each year. A good year 10 can be accepted as grad students. That means some 1990 students are not going to do research and need another future.

To not consider the future of all those students when building an educational structure for them is irresponsible bordering on reckless. Those who apply deserve to be able to rely on that their teachers have thought about them. An education doesn’t exist to satisfy the teachers, but the students. For them to think anything else is just arrogant.

Further, if you believe that classical education and critical thought is important to society – and I agree with the professors in that it is – then society has a need for people with those skills. Students of modern western thought are most likely employable, because society need their knowledge and therefore is willing to pay for it. And with just a little more thought about how those skills can be applied, the students will have no problem getting employed. And the departments can write that down – and thus the program can get validated.

Much is about in politics. At least as much as it concern research and hight education – the two fields I work with the most. And there are some key buzzwords that keep popping up.


Last year came one of the Government’s official studies, ”Resources for quality” (SOU 2007:81 – Swedish only), and later ”Career for quality” (SOU 2007:98 – also Swedish). There’s even ”Financing research – quality and relevance” (SOU 2008:30 – Swedish). There really seems to be a lot quality around.

Meanwhile, I’m part of an expert group to The Association for Swedish Higher Education (SUHF) that is to define what ”quality” actually means… Because nobody has any idea.

Several different studies by student unions around the country have shown that few students can be made to spend more than 15 to 20 hours per week studying alone. The rest of the time should be time you spend in class or otherwise in touch with your teachers. The unions’ studies show that some spend less than 5 hours per week in class…

…This is what we call Quality.


Then we have Freedom. This is the other buzzword that is popular these days. Especially in other parts of politics, but I’ll stick to R&E for now. For instance the mandatory membership in student unions will be lifted. At least that is what the study ”Freedom for students” (SOU 2008:11 – Swedish) suggests. And that must be freedom, right? Freedom for the university to get away with more. Freedom for unions to spend more of their budgets on parties to show their existence. Freedom all around.

There’s also another study on it’s way that will report how universities can be given greater freedom from the government. Freedom not to rely on their most important investor but having to listen to large companies that try to influence them.

Freedom is a tricky word that is constantly overused. People should remember that in nearly all cases freedom involves giving up freedom.