Universities in Europe take a turn for the corporate

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Professor Mary Gallagher has been working in higher education for more than 25 years, teaching language and literature in France, Germany and Ireland. In that time, she’s witnessed a shift toward a market/consumer-based approach to college education in Europe.

In her latest book, “Academic Armageddon: An Irish Requiem for Higher Education,” Gallagher vents her fury over this ideological shift and researches its origins — from Margaret Thatcher to the U.S. and back.

“On the one hand, the level of higher education discourse in the U.S. is very high. There are so many American authors doing good books on higher education — more than anywhere else,” says Gallagher. “But on the other hand, I don’t think most Americans are aware that the U.S. has developed a commercialist or corporate university model that has, most unfortunately, been copied globally.”

Ireland’s state-sponsored higher education system was overhauled to move away from public control and toward a more market-focused system. Gallagher cites the American model as the impetus for these changes, in particular the Washington, D.C.-based Advisory Group, who was contracted by the Irish government.

The “corporate university” Gallagher describes won’t be unfamiliar to most Americans: less public financing, low tenure rates, high numbers of adjuncts, an emphasis on student feedback and a narrowing of curricula to reflect market interests.

“If education has become a commodity, if students are treated as consumers, if faculty are treated as vendors — and their performance is micro-managed — I don’t see how independent and critical thinking can survive that,” says Gallagher. “The whole idea of education as a public good is absolutely incompatible with unrestrained market rule.”


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