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Ignorance for all is not justice

By PJ Anders Linder

Helene Hellmark Knutsson has a big goal in mind: even more places in college. The number of enrolled students has already grown exponentially and is roughly twice as high today as 20 years ago, but it's not enough. The number of places needs to be even higher. "It is our main priority," the higher education minister assures us during her visits to the country's seats of learning.

The only question is why? Here, the minister is less clear. The main reason seems to be that there are more people applying to university than get in, and that it is unfair that not everyone who wants to go gets the chance. True justice may, then, only be achieved if the number of places is as large as the number of applicants, and why not then go all the way and do as MarieLouise Samuelsson ironically suggested in the last issue of Axess and even make college obligatory? Should we really allow these short-term thinking young people to miss out on university simply because they have not applied on their own initiative?

Am I joking? Yes, but less so than I would like.

It becomes somewhat tragicomic when the responsible politician puts everything into more people having a college education but does not devote any significant attention to what education really means and, above all, what it should mean. That you studied at college and can call yourself college educated are words without meaning if you have gone through an education that is not qualified enough to be called "higher". It's like your swimming ability being gained by getting a swimming badge rather than actually learning to swim.

It may be objected that many employers now require higher education even for moderately skilled jobs and that a diploma is a necessary admission ticket to the labour market, so as many as possible must be able to get one. But two wrong things do not make a right. It is completely unreasonable for taxpayers to pay for higher education places that are not aimed at human betterment, but simply to maintain a recruitment process based on rough sorting and routine. Especially as mass education of low quality is not only a problem for those who go there: it devalues the overall value of higher education and erodes the university's identity.

Justice requires that as many people as possible get to go to good primary and secondary schools and then have the chance to apply to college and, if they get in, acquire real higher education. Today's model – to waive the requirements in school and channel as many as possible to college so as many people as possible can get diplomas – one can call a lot of things, but it has nothing to do with justice.

The signals regarding quality problems in college only increase. The prerequisites are failing. Students can handle full-time courses even if they study part-time or less. The cheating is increasing – something which has recently been reported.

In the last issue of Axess, we devoted the theme to this crisis in higher education, and the response has been great in terms of reader responses, press comment and discussion in social media.

Göteborgs-Posten (17/3) writes: "It is often said that higher education is an investment for the future. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that it is often badly invested money, both for the students and society in general." Joakim Tholén in VT (16/3) agrees: "The political objective that half of the individuals in each age group will study at university will soon be achieved. The only question is what significance such a quantitative target has if the education they acquire does not have any real weight.”

Liberala Nyhetsbyråns’ comments, published in newspapers around the country, take an even harder line: "If the politicians continue to ignore higher education, the consequence will soon be that Sweden does not have a single educational institution worthy of the name. Or just that, it may have already happened." Several others are on similar tracks. Worth noting is that the writers have, in many cases, decently fresh personal experiences of college.

Ebba Lisberg Jensen's article about students' problems with reading and writing have received particular attention. It has obviously struck a chord. Andreas Ekström in Sydsvenskan (20/3) notes that there have often been baseless complaints arguing that students were better before, but that Lisberg Jensen's article cannot be dismissed as that kind of directionless whining: "It is objective, precise and necessary for anyone who is interested."

I really hope that Helene Hellmark Knutsson will be one of those who are interested and that we'll get a higher education debate devoted to content and quality rather than to quantitative output targets arising from a strange and unlovely association of central control and do-gooding laissez-faire liberalism.

NR 3 2015

Axess Magasin

Är en tidskrift inom området humaniora/samhällsvetenskap och utges av Axess Publishing AB. Tidskriftens målsättning är att fungera som en knutpunkt mellan den akademiska och den publicistiska sfären.

 

Chefredaktör: PJ Anders Linder
Redaktörer: David Andersson, Mats Wiklund, Jan Söderqvist.
Redaktionssekreterare: Katarina O’Nils Franke
Redaktionsråd: Peter Elmlund, Thomas Gür, Peter Luthersson, Nathan Shachar, Louise Belfrage
Ansvarig utgivare: Peter Elmlund

 

För att kontakta redaktionen, mejla redaktionen@axess.se.

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