What is higher education about and who should pay for it?

Wednesday 17 October, 7.00pm until 8.30pm, Room 34, Ground Floor, Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, ELTE Muzeum krt. 6-8. Budapest, Hungary

Throughout Europe, university education is subject to a growing number of intense challenges. Often viewed as a costly luxury by governments preoccupied with economic recession, academics are told that an ivory-tower pursuit of truth is an old-fashioned, unaccountable, and self-indulgent posture. In this context, utilitarian and short-term outcomes are prioritised over the long-term and open-ended goal of knowledge for its own sake. What is the point of research grants for philosophy or sociology, scholars are asked, if they don’t contribute to increasing GDP or demonstrate any useful ‘impact’ on society?

In the UK, the government has made employability a requirement of all courses, from medieval history to moral philosophy, and proof of impact is required for state-funded research. In Hungary, the government believes the country’s future depends on professionals in science and technology, and views qualifications in social sciences, law and economics as being of little value. The new higher-education law means only 250 places for economics and 100 for law will be subsidised, as opposed to thousands in engineering and the sciences. Critics say this could place non-technical education beyond the reach of all but the wealthy. Similar concerns are voiced in the UK, where students now need to pay up to £9,000 towards their fees: many commentators fear that at in a time of recession and declining personal incomes, enrolment numbers may drop sharply.

The effects of such changes are unpredictable. In Hungary, far from halting the brain-drain, might it increase the number of students leaving to be educated abroad? In both countries, is there a risk that students will now see the acquisition of knowledge as a consumer good subject to demands for quality of service and ‘value for money’? How will the idea that the ‘customer knows best’ affect the integrity of academic judgement and the traditional professor-pupil model? And what about academic freedom from state intrusion? Must the university simply become a machine for handing out pieces of paper, tickets to join the job queues? Or is it naïve to think that the university can still make an argument for the intrinsic value of knowledge and convince the public, the tax-payer, of its virtues? Just what are universities for, for whom, and who should pay for them?

Gábor Bojár
founder, Aquincum Institute of Technology; entrepreneur

Professor Katalin Farkas
professor, Central European University, Budapest; author, The Subject's Point of View

Angus Kennedy
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

Réka Kinga Papp
social video programme manager, Green Spider Foundation; co-founder, Hallgatoi Halozat, student activist group

GM Tamás
visiting professor, Central European University; author, Les Idoles de la Tribu

Dr Tim Black
editor, Spiked Review

Produced by
Dr Anna Gács associate professor, Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, ELTE
Dr Ferenc Hammer associate professor, Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, ELTE, Budapest
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Recommended readings
Don't give up the day job to help them secure day jobs

Scholar bemoans impact of employability agenda on academic standards. Matthew Reisz reports

Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education, 11 October 2012

The university: still dead

Andrew Delbanco’s insightful new book on the history and future of the American college exposes an institution that has no idea what it should be.

Angus Kennedy, spiked, 25 May 2012

Get in shape: lose the fat

Clive Bloom sheds few tears for Middlesex's strangely underpopulated philosophy department - or any other corners of an academy short on recruits and long overdue for the axe. He argues that to save money and raise standards, the weakest institutions must close

Clive Bloom, Times Higher Education, 29 June 2010

From Communism to Bologna: The Emerging Crisis of Hungarian Universities

Today’s situation in Hungarian higher education displays the problems of transition from a model considered to be outdated by the European Union to a new structure.

Eszter Bartha, Universities in Crisis, 27 May 2010

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