ENCATC elaboration based on the Keynote of Milena Dragićević Šešić
Head of the UNESCO Chair in Interculturalism, Art Management and Mediation, Serbia
Ethical Challenges in the Era of Academic Capitalism: Mission of Critically Engaged University
Full video of the talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJGgJOTb8Kw
Why this topic?
10 years ago, Milena was chosen among 40 professors to present a book on Cultural Policy that inspired her. She felt very happy and wanted to introduce one of a well-known cultural policy scholar in Serbia. However, all he had written were not available in English because he did not write books in this language.
This was a problem, since after presenting one of this author’s books, she got an email back saying: “we are not interested in books which are not published in English”. This was shocking for her, since she could not believe they were not curious on knowing what was being written at that time in other countries or regions, even though the book itself was written in a different language, by renowned scholars who were competent to write books on the matter. She felt this was important to consider because, how can we know what is being written in our peripheral regions if we limit ourselves up to this point?
Introduction to presentation
Key Words related to Academic Capitalism:
|Expanded professionalism||Academic Ethics|
|Entrepreneurial university||Academic Solidarity|
|University market||University in public realm|
|Employability (university as producer of labor force)||University Autonomy|
|Managerialism||University as knowledge producer|
Let’s take as an example an international program on Arts: Master’s in International Performance Research. This is led by four European universities, one of which is that of Milena (University of Arts in Belgrade).
Students could choose to go to two of these universities. This was very successful and perfectly fitted under the Erasmus Mundus. After 5 years, Erasmus Mundus decided not to renew the partnership because the program was “too academic” instead of more entrepreneurial and it was not forming students for labor market, but for research (curatorial research, practice-based research). Eventually, this master offered both possibilities of undertaking a theoretical Master study or an applied curatorial project.
This made one of the universities drop out from the program, since university studies in that particular country have to remain public and free of charge. Nonetheless, there were still three remaining universities willing to carry on with the program. On the following year, another partner university considered the master was not profitable enough, so, the program started lacking funds and at this point, it was finally cancelled.
Therefore, the hypothesis of this text is that today’s academic world is under huge pressure of capitalist venues, where universities are not expected to be sustainable, but rather profitable.
Can universities and specially art schools keep its academic, artistic and teaching integrity, its autonomy stimulating and encouraging creativity and critical thinking of its students, with this ongoing pressure of being profitable?
One important claim to be made is that academic culture is now squeezed in between traditional higher education values and new university “culture of management” that endorse benchmarking, competitivity, comparability…
When establishing a program, you are asked for European benchmarks with other universities. This means that, according to the rules, the university has to put three schools’ benchmarks. This was obviously done, since it is compulsory to proceed with the creation of the program. However, this felt badly for Milena, since she considers this is not how universities should be developed and should proceed. Not looking for what others are doing but for what you want to achieve and working on achieving it.
Pressures in the time of globalization
Universities on a crossroads:
- Competitivity – ranking done according to quantitative criteria is the key “benchmark” of development
- Rentability – attracting student bodies from “emerging markets” that could make each program profitable
(Drawing of Serbian Artist portraying how cultural and education policies try to create democracy, justice and so no, but all the mercantilization of cultural profit is turning this down).
Art universities achievements at the end of the XX century
- Changes in cultural sector educating new generation of artistic, cultural and art managers aware of socio-political and cultural contexts
- Integrating critical issues within art teaching & cultural management & policy research,
- Started to be inclusive, still keeping its demanding selection process that made many art schools inaccessible for students coming from de-privileged social background or migrant communities
- Public policies demanded universities to introduce affirmative actions (i.e. toward Roma students) and to raise accessibility for students with physical handicaps – there, not much had happened
In spite of some issues concerning diversity and inclusion which could still be improved, universities achieved new frontiers in order to become more sustainable, fair and inclusive. However, these were not achieved until late XX century, and yet there are accessibility issues which can be further developed.
XXI century demands: markets and sustainability
Nowadays, instead of speaking about accessibility, and about making universities more inclusive, we are focusing on the fact that:
- Cultural operators and artists have to behave according to neoliberal demands: managerial and marketing techniques in governance and audience development become more important than creation itself
- This has imposed the necessity to academia to change curriculum accordingly and it has forced them to go back to skill training – only it was not any more about artistic skills (master classes in traditional academia were transferring skills from masters to students) but about transversal skills (related to communication, persuasion, fundraising, team work, etc.)
This is because we are focused on becoming “Elite schools”, but we are not taking into account that “Elite schools” also need to have affirmative actions.
Contradictory policy demands
We are asked to:
- be key platforms for research and knowledge production and academics are expected to eventually do a proper original research
- contribute to community: to social and economic development, and therefore, our work should relate to those themes
- educate critical intelligence and researchers, but also to educate “professionals” for the labor market of today and tomorrow
- realize our own sustainability by designing the so-called “profitable curricula”, those that are demanded on the market, those that students are willing to pay for and hence, removing “non-profitable” programs
What curricula can these be? Can these be about community art projects and social engagement? NO, these curricula are not demanded that much to be sustained in the market.
New Public Management demands from universities
Therefore, universities fall under the pressure of providing students with the “right” knowledge skills to guarantee them that they will be successful in the market and that they will earn money in the future. This is for example how management schools promote their programs.
So, nowadays, universities are more and more demanded to become entrepreneurial, and they now have to be analyzed not only as knowledge production institutions, but also as a capitalist institution.
University global market
At the same time, university is not anymore only local or national, universities need to become part of the global market, becoming competitive, and thus, achieving its own sustainability, efficiency of management and of course, its profitability. This will provide universities with the chance of endorsing investment in new hubs or laboratories and research that is demanded by corporations or political authorities.
What is expected of academics?/contradictory demands/especially for those on peripheries
We are expected to help local communities but at the same time being global, and that is not easy. Universities ask us to valorize research not among academics, as it used to be, but exclusively by indexed journals or high ranged universities.
On the other side, it is expected that curriculum enable students to get analytical and critical thinking skills. Actually, students will not be surely employed with these skills. They are important, but not the most critical ones. Big corporations appreciate much more loyalty than critical thinking. Hence, can we really know what learning results are going to be prioritized in the whole market?
“Balance” in between principles and market demands
We have to negotiate and balance our values with those that are imposed by governments, international bodies, etc. In spite of discourses of new university managements that endorse trans-disciplinarity and innovation, research shows that most of resources are given to those projects and programs which are already highly profitable, or which have this potential. Therefore, projects chosen are those which are not risky.
Actually, this is contradictory to the culture of entrepreneurs, being this a culture of risk. However, universities are not teaching that, but the fact that culture of entrepreneurialism is research market and what markets want, while the reality of entrepreneurship is taking the risk.
Academic ethics – responsibility of networks
It is therefore very important for the academic community to strengthen each other and try self-organize and find ways in collaboration and academic solidarity to create transdisciplinary and transborder programs connecting innovative creative education (arts), critical thinking and acting (social sciences and humanities), and new technologies (potentially profitable practices that could be developed with the collaboration of the previous two, not necessarily only in the domain of creative industries).
Only through networks we can raise academic culture and we can achieve that our values are negotiated with contemporary demands but are not totally neglected or erased.