HomeEconomicHow Economic Narratives Distort Education

How Economic Narratives Distort Education

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We took a big step forward and said, “Let’s pretend we’re a business.”

—John Lombardi, President, University of Florida

Education was once seen as a service enjoyed by humanity and a cornerstone of democracy. Through education, you can gain a clearer understanding of the world, you can become a critical thinker, you can learn how to participate meaningfully in society, and how to hold democratic leaders accountable to the people. Education is public wealth and a social investment that can kink people’s lives into one society. We believe that education improves our lives holistically, whether we are educated or not. We use education to redistribute opportunity. Education narrows the gap between rich and poor because it gives the poor more opportunities for equality. If you started life disadvantaged, through education you have the opportunity to improve your life.

Education is usually the responsibility of public institutions. Because it is difficult for students to assess the quality of their education, and we worry that private companies may take advantage of it to exploit students. We believe that education is a public good, so we are willing to subsidize or support education with taxes to achieve social and economic goals that are in the public interest. The school promotes a set of values ​​to help students understand what it means to be a citizen. In school, you can learn to cooperate, resolve your differences with others, and learn to get along with people with very different personalities. You’ll find that you may be better or worse than the guy next door at drawing, writing, running, or math, but generally speaking, everyone has their own space. Everyone can show their strengths and make contributions.

Science is an important part of education with a noble purpose: to create knowledge for the betterment of human beings. Science is a calling, not a career. Scientists do not need to explain their research to laymen because their research programs are inexpensive and, if expensive, are not financed by public funds. There is a line, though not always clear, between basic research (discovering new knowledge, seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake) and applied research (applying knowledge to real life).

As members of the scientific community, scientists should share data and results with other community members, since their research is a commons of thought. Publishing in journals is for the advancement of scientific knowledge for the benefit of humanity, not for the assertion of intellectual property. Bringing research into the market is not the point, and it is foolish in the eyes of ordinary people to seek personal gain through research results. In any case, obtaining a patent is a complex process. In addition, scientists worry that patents will undermine the pursuit of basic research—for example, patenting medical research may seem a breach of integrity because of the negative impact on the cause of public health. They conduct scientific research knowing that their work is valuable and important because it benefits humanity.

As a scientist, you are expected to be detached and objective in your research. You steer clear of emotional or financial entanglements in your work, dedicating yourself to authenticity and challenging the established narratives of academic disciplines. In the realm of science, truth occupies an indisputable position. Galileo connected science with reality. He said: “The conclusions of natural science are true and inevitable, while human judgment has nothing to do with the two.” Galileo meant that the results of science are facts—you cannot Not liking what you discover, and “creating” something different. Galileo said this for a reason. He argued that the earth is not the center of the universe, which violated the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, he was condemned by the church as heresy and placed under house arrest.

For hundreds of years, science has stood for “the quest for the good and the truth”—truth itself has value, so science itself has value. Scientists are generally considered to have the following qualities – having moral sentiments, not looking for rewards and power, willing to share results with research partners, adhering to strict standards, “pursuing a noble purpose: striving for knowledge and power for the happiness of mankind”.

Then the story of education and science changed.


In the economic story, education is introduced into the market world and becomes a commodity. Students became buyers. Schools have become sellers, service providers are competing to do business, and the entire education system has developed into an education service industry. The economic story says that education is private property, not public property. Education can help an individual get a head start in life. Education is important, not because it helps you to be a sound and educated citizen and to participate successfully in society, but because it helps you find better jobs, make more money, and improve your Quality of Life.

Education becomes a financial investment that can pay you high returns. When you grow up and choose a field to work in, you have to think carefully about the rate of return. The following news headline may help you decide: “Humanities degree will cut your income.” In 2003, the BBC reported that university graduates in the humanities, such as history and English, earned more than high school graduates. 2%~10% lower. Language and education degrees are not profitable; law, medicine, mathematics and engineering, by contrast, are sound financial investments. The researchers interviewed warned: “Having a passion for literature is not going to help you pay your rent. Maybe a humanities student knows they won’t be paid very much in the future, but they may not know it. Education is a personal risk .We have to make sure everyone has the right perspective on education.”

The economic story tells us that education is private property, not public property, so educated people should pay for it themselves. Public funds to finance education are reduced. Tuition increases. If you are studying law, medicine or business, which can bring you a high return on your investment, allowing you to earn a higher salary in the future, then you should pay higher tuition fees to reap the benefits of high returns. From 1995 to 2002, Canadian university tuition fees increased by 132% for medicine, 168% for dentistry, and 61% for law. By comparison, other college majors rose just 34 percent — and that adjusted for inflation.

Rising tuition costs can make it harder to get an education if you’re not already rich. In the economic story, though, the way students get to higher education is not by lowering tuition fees, but by lending money to students to pay for them. That said, the focus is on making it easy for students to borrow money. The relaxation of student loan qualifications allows more students to apply, and the amount of loans that students can borrow has also increased. People who doubt their need to take on this kind of debt find themselves with fewer and fewer options. Scholarships and bursaries—the money that doesn’t have to be returned—are increasingly selected on the basis of merit rather than financial need, and the criteria used to measure excellence are overwhelmingly related to socioeconomic status. In other words, wealthier students were judged to be better off to begin with, which made it easier for them to obtain non-refundable scholarships. Educational scholars believe that in the 21st century, economic and racial inequalities in higher education are greater than they have been since the 1960s.


The economic story shows that when you choose a school, it is not based on the quality of teaching, but on the brand recognition, that is, the reputation of the school and the major; a better reputation means that your investment will have better returns. In the class, you compete with your classmates and strive for the top. Your rank is compared with the ranks of the classmates around you, and the ranking depends on your personal performance. If you are independent, resilient, adaptable, quick, disciplined and motivated, then you will be noticed. High-performing and valuable students enable schools to meet standards and compete with other schools. If you don’t perform well, it’s likely that the school will fail to meet its standards, and you will be labeled as undesirable.

Your performance matters because, in the economic story, your school gives your country a competitive advantage in the global knowledge economy by providing you with an education. Schools do not exist to help you become informed citizens, but to help countries improve their economies and competitiveness, enhance innovation, promote economic development, and train employees for the labor market.

As a result, your school has to be more entrepreneurial, partly out of necessity, as government funding is dwindling every year. Your school must seek new revenue streams: begin buying and selling real estate; develop and sell retirement communities on campus; commercialize intellectual property with corporations and venture capitalists; These students are charged higher tuition fees than domestic students. Your program is also evaluated for cost-effectiveness, efficiency and market value.

According to the economic story, schools should cut costs, such as outsourcing work and working with private contractors, and no longer employ university staff for food supply, cleaning, laundry and bookstore services. It is best for schools not to have too close a relationship with employees. The number of tenure-track positions—the kind of stable positions that professors used to secure—and the number of tenure-track assistantships have declined steadily, from 56 percent in 1975 to 35 percent in 2003. Many lecturers, often doctoral students, now teach on contract, with little money, little benefits, and no job security. According to Marc Bousquet (author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low Wage Nation), a survey of academic workers found that ” Less than one-third of surveyed programs pay writing instructors more than $2,500 per class for one year of coursework; nearly half (47.6%) pay instructors less than $2,000 for coursework… At these levels, A full-time instructor who takes 8 classes a day nets less than $16,000 a year with no benefits.” At the same time, behind the cost-cutting of schools, universities began to use a series of new terms, such as strategic plan, mission, cost-effectiveness, excellence, performance evaluation, audit, cost-centeredness, competition, selection and accountability system.


Science also follows education in the economic story. After the invention of the atomic bomb and the bombing of Hiroshima in World War II, science lost its moral high ground; after that, science slowly became more and more industrialized. The economic story says that scientists should become scientific entrepreneurs—not only creating knowledge, but also finding markets for its applications. It is more and more common for research to require external funding, and scientists are increasingly required to seek grants from funders and to consider the interests of funders when conducting research. The ability to secure funding outside the university is critical. More and more research is being published, but also more work is being judged worthless. Solid scientific results require a slow and painstaking research process, but journals are constantly urging manuscripts, and scientists also need to accumulate publications to increase their chances of promotion and tenure.

The economic story tells us that scientific research, originally the common property of ideas, has now become the private property of knowledge. Former colleagues became competitors. Scientists have changed from freely sharing information and results in the scientific community to protecting and monetizing their results through patents, licenses, and partnerships with industry. They set out to protect possible future discoveries to ensure that they can be successfully commercialized. Knowledge commercialization hubs pop up on campuses, and academics are advised to think twice before discussing their work with colleagues and publishing research at conferences to protect their market opportunities. After all, research can generate major income. In 2000, licensing revenues from research results such as the hepatitis B vaccine, the cancer drug paclitaxel, the sports drink Gatorade and vitamin D exceeded $1.7 billion; revenues were often split among researchers, their departments and universities.

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