No commodification

August 29, 2013

The article “‘Political experiment’ must not reduce education to a commodity” (15 August) informs us that “the UK’s pool of higher education experts…has arguably taken a turn to the right”. It then announces the arrival at the University of Southampton of Jürgen Enders, “who comes to the UK with a deep scepticism about the perceived attempt to turn higher education into a market and the student into a consumer”.

This leads one to hope that some radical changes are about to be proposed from the Left. Not so. What we hear instead is that Enders does not believe that it is truly possible to create a market in education because it is hard to gauge the value of a course; he is worried about the drift towards “degree mills”; he does not object to students contributing to the cost of tuition; he would be surprised if British students started turning their backs on university; and he believes that “nobody quite knows if [in international ventures] students are any brighter after graduation”.

Given that Enders describes English higher education as a “wonderful real-life laboratory” in which to study “radical policies” and their impact on universities, teaching and research, he is presumably going to make some concrete suggestion for improvement.

If so, he might well be looking for some very different “radical policies”. He could turn his attention to Venezuela, where 134 indigenous Venezuelans are heading off to begin study at the Latin American University of Medicine in Miranda State on the condition that they return afterwards to serve their local communities (a similar reasonable request was made to me when I was seconded on full pay by the Inner London Education Authority to do a master’s).

Education in Venezuela is, of course, political. However, as I argue in the forthcoming book Education and Social Change in Latin America, which I edited with Sara Motta: “whereas in the UK…the capitalist state increasingly uses formal education merely as a vehicle to promote capitalism, in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, ‘the political’ in education is articulated against capitalism and imperialism and for socialism”.

Mike Cole
Cass School of Education and Communities
University of East London

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