Profit motive is threatening higher education

We were pleased to see the recent article by Richard Hall titled "The profit motive is threatening higher education" published on 18 November 2012.

Our team of editors at CollegeTimes, a website that allows students from around the world to submit uncensored reviews of their university, witnesses the corrupt and destructive influence of money on the higher education system on a daily basis.

Our website has existed for more than four years, and never have we encountered any animosity between our community and traditional public, private, or non-profit institutions.

However, the amount of legal threats, lawsuits, hacking attempts, domain hijacking attempts, and so forth on the part of for-profit institutions around the world (especially from the US and Canada) is something that we deal with every single day.

Why? Because these for-profit institutions often receive hundreds of negative reviews on our website – and at the end of the day, they only seem to care about their financial bottom line.

Free market capitalism argues that competition will drive businesses to offer better and better deals to consumers, while forcing them to place value on the reputation of their product or service.

In the education sector, however, an industry offering billions of dollars in unconditional government grants – and an industry in which for-profit institutions can change their name or location at a moment's notice while all the while blaming students for any lack of success – there is truly very little comparison to the typical practices and boundaries that make up the cornerstone of free market philosophies.

This very corrupt and misleading market is not ‘free’ in any sense – in fact, it more closely resembles the defence-contractor industry in the United States, where companies like Halliburton or Blackwater spring up overnight to win massive no-bid government contracts for things like re-building post-war Iraq.

Interestingly, Caribbean-based offshore investment companies are now offering ‘shelf universities’ for sale alongside shelf corporations – a shameful testament to the massive demand among fly-by-night investors looking to make a quick buck off the higher education sector.

The truth is that treating a college or university primarily as a ‘profitable’ business puts the focus on cutting corners whenever possible and increasing efficiency wherever possible. Ultimately, this approach treats higher education as a globally traded commodity with no safety net.

However, unlike gold, or oil, the ‘product’ of higher education is an intangible, virtual good whose value is completely perceived. And that is exactly why, among self-respecting academics, it will always matter more where and with whom you studied, rather than just merely what you studied.

As the founders of the United States government clearly understood, there are some things that must remain purposefully inefficient, and thoroughly bound by checks and balances, in order to maintain their purpose and value. The education sector should be one of the things.

Paul Blake & CollegeTimes Editors