As Brookfield (2006) reminds us, politics is ever-present in adult education, regardless of the subject. There is politics in hiring, assigning sections (courses), program availability (number of “seats”), tuition, funding, and within the classroom.
I am interested in the big-picture politics at play that ultimately decides who can afford to attend, what options they have when they do and perhaps the difficulty and expectations within that program.
Public funding for post-secondary institutions has shrunk in recent years in both the U.S. and Canada, and British Columbia is no exception. This results in universities courting higher tuition, international students, and private donors. In some cases these private donors are allowed significant influence of faculty hiring and student positions. It is conceivable then that these private groups gain access to influence curriculum and research priorities, opening the door to corporate control of what students learn and infringing on the notion of academic freedom.
Governments also exert influence, funding specific programs and cutting others in the name of jobs creation. This may be fiscally responsible in the name of the economy, but it effectively limits student choice.
This political pressure may also extend to within the institution, and infringe on ethics. The college I teach at has a nursing program for which my department teaches foundation biology courses. At times in the past, our department has been pressured by nursing program administrators to dilute course objectives or even eliminate lab components because it is too challenging for their students and affects progress through the program compared to competing colleges. My department feels very strongly that these are important skills for future nurses and has successfully (to date) won the argument. A significant portion of the students in our department are pre-nursing students, largely accounting for employment of a number of faculty; decisions on course requirements by nursing program administrators have significant affects on the biology department. If we refuse to dilute the course expectations (as some believe is an ethical issue), these courses could be removed as requirements. If push comes to shove, we may lose the opportunity to teach these students at all.
While I recognize the real challenges, I don’t appreciate seeing education as a business, particularly at public institutions.
Brookfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.