Monday, April 27

Higher Education's dirty secret

Interesting op-ed in the NY Times by Mark C Taylor. In it, he mentions one bit about academia that they don't like to admit too much.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs.

Now, I suspect I won't find myself seeing eye to eye on a number of topics with academics from religion departments, and I'm not sure about some of his suggestions for dealing with the problem (he doesn't mention how to limit and control the centralised bureaucracies, who would undoubtedly argue they should remain permanent even if teaching and research staff were all on fixed term contracts). But the fact is that universities using postgrad students as cheap staff rather than employ technicians, postgrad and postdoc researchers is widespread. So much so, in fact, that a group that wishes to go against this trend will have questions asked about their funding applications. "An opportunity for training" is the mantra that academics have developed to justify having cheap students do the work rather than qualified staff, and they have so convinced themselves of that - even when it is not true - that they question anyone who doesn't act in the same way. So I find myself asking the awkward question - why is it only students who can benefit from new opportunities? Are we postdocs not expected to gain any further knowledge and experience now that we're being paid to do the job?

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