The Financialized University: storms ahead

At the event about the “Financialized University” on February 7 at Crea, researchers/activists explained why there are more problems ahead for students and staff, and a studentmovement is truly necessary.

(The event was organized by Real World Economics Amsterdam. Download the audio recording of the event here)

Staff & students will pay for bad real estate investments

Financial geographer Rodrigo Fernandez (UvA) explained (slides here) how the investments in real estate could bring the UvA into serious problems. Universities like the UvA have increasingly prioritized investments in fancy buildings – to create a sense of prestigiousness (to create a “Harvard at the Amstel”) – over research and education. In getting the loans for these investments, banks demanded promises. So universities changed their governance structure in order to guarantee banks they will get their money back, no matter what.

Now that the economic crisis goes on, these real estate investments of universities might prove to be a heavy burden and impossible to pay back without some serious cutbacks, despite the optimism of the universities’ real estate managers who claim that the crisis will not affect the university in any way, Fernandez explained. The contracts made with banks for the loans necessary for these real estate investments guarantee and prioritize the repayment to the banks, but there’s nothing which guarantees that students and teachers will receive what they expect (their jobs and their student programmes). Oops. From one day to another, there might be a lack of money to pay staff.

Competition replaced collegiality and cooperation

Boris Slijper of the action network Verontruste VU’ers (the ‘indignados’ of the Vrije Universiteit) explained how university staff has come to see each other as competitors instead of colleagues and how there’s increasing competition between universities but also within universities (see slides). All because of “near-privatization” or as someone called it “market-imitation”, Slijper said [not a true market, but market-mechanisms imposed and regulated by a new layer of management]. Researchers compete for the best positions and careers, and are rewarded by management for quantity, not quality. There’s for instance an emphasis on publication numbers (a “publish or perish culture”) which leads to many “irrelevant publications”.

Need of a student movement

Though the actions of the Verontruste VU’ers in 2012 seemed promising, they slowed down after a compromise between the official trade union and the University board. What’s more, Slijper warned that University boards will in fact only listen to students (their clients) instead of their staff and not much will change before students realize they are also harmed by management. The problems of the staff – workload, flexibilization, staff reductions, etcetera – directly affect the quality of the education they receive. Fortunately, the evening ended with a call for more student activism. A greek student from the audience: “I don’t understand, where are the activists?”.

How did we get here?

Rijer Hendrikse gave a detailed evaluation (with this powerpoint) of how we got to this situation. What’s the connection between globalization and this new form of governance we find inside universities called “New Public Management”? How has the University become so financialized? Though it’s a complex and long story, it’s a story we should try to understand if we eventually want to address the roots of these problems inside Universities (and other public sectors), instead of only fighting the symptoms.

394 thoughts on “The Financialized University: storms ahead

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