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Education as a natural resource

Just like the sea, forests and oil, education could be seen as a natural resource which is equally subject to exploitation.

In maritime industry, there are ongoing discussions about how available resources can be used without permanently damaging the ecosystem. The desire for sustainable exploitation is an indicator of policy shifting away from the current model of generating fast revenue with little concern for the consequences over time.

Within the ‘ecosystem’ of the university, the various disciplines are resources, too, and the extent to which they can be valorised (meaning that they can create value from the research they generate) differs dramatically.

Educational ecosystem

In this ‘educational ecosystem’, problems arise when existing policies show little flexibility with regard to the earning potential those disciplines have, and the faculties most impacted by this rigidity are the humanities and social sciences, also known as HASS.

While resources in the ocean are targeted selectively based on their value and those that are deemed unexploitable are left alone, in an educational ecosystem, the resources which are tougher to tap do not remain undisturbed: disciplines that are not easily valorised can experience negative side effects.

The Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI) writes: ‘Compared to ‘hard’ sciences, humanities and social sciences’ (HASS) social benefits and services are more diffuse and less easily enumerated and capitalized. Likewise, their ‘clients’ or beneficiaries often are public bodies, non-profit organizations, and other community groups with lower purchasing power.’ In other words, in order to answer the demands for calculable, revenue-friendly research, a different set of policies needs to be applied to those disciplines.

Equal

Because the HASS stakeholders are often groups from the general public who don’t have sufficient influence when shaping policy, that results in less legitimacy, fewer resources and a decreased sense of urgency for those disciplines, leaving them less capable of serving the public interest.

In line with AWTI, the university should try and address these community stakeholders as equal business interests. Given that the monetary value of research done at HASS has traditionally been difficult to quantify, that is admittedly no easy task. But in order to establish sustainable management of our educational ecosystem, we need to protect its endangered parts.

Shaping their fate

This protection, or lack thereof, can be best observed in the tenacious struggles in our own Faculty of Arts, where they are coping with a persistent deficit and an apparent lack of support from the Board. Responsibility for their success or failure is seen to lie with the faculty itself, yet the decision-making shaping their fate is following directions coming from The Hague.

One may ask: why don’t we just allocate more money to the arts faculty? Perhaps the better question would be if the real problem is the lack of money after all, but it is nigh impossible for staff and students to know exactly what kinds of issues they are facing when the model of start-up funding allocation is kept secret. Until light can be shed on the mechanisms behind distribution of moneys, and until those affected by it are able to take an active role in solving this issue, there does not seem to be any real grounds on which the current situation with HASS can change for the better.

31-03-2016