David Harvey, “I’m skeptical about the idea of reforming neoliberalism” 3.5/4

Due to my workload, I need to break this little project into four pieces. I’ll try to get one published every night and will gather them all together in a few days. As always, comments/corrections are appreciated. This is part 3; you can find part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here — the present post was supposed to be in part 3 but I messed up this morning and thought I was done…

David Harvey, Marxist geographer and intellectual: “I’m skeptical about the idea of reforming neoliberalism”

Originally posted in Spanish here: http://lachispa-revista.blogspot.com/2014/12/david-harvey-geografo-e-intelectual_23.html

LC: In your lectures available on the internet, you explain the difference between understanding universities as exchange values instead of use values. What role do you believe a public university has to have in the 21st century? What do you think about the participation of private interests in education?

DH: Well, in reality I hope that in the coming years public universities have an increasingly important and significant role. However, the tendency is in the other direction, and this has been so since even before the emergence of hardest neoliberal rhetoric. For example, my own university in New York (City University of New York, CUNY) is a very large public university. Today it has about 400,000 students and since 1970 it has been free. Its mission consisted of educating the children of immigrants and I can say it still does. However, with the neoliberal reforms of the ‘70s, we were forced to charge fees, even if these continue to be relatively low. In fact, it has been called to my attention that our fees are less than the University of Valparaíso or the University of Chile. Now, we are continuing educating an immense immigrant population that is very diverse. There is a tremendous range of students, that is to say, you have excellent students and others that are difficult to educate, which makes the democratization of these universities extremely important. Currently, one of the greatest problems that we have is that these public universities have been systematically underfunded since the ‘30s and have had to face the increasing emergence of superior private universities. In New York, for example, you have an interesting situation: everyone knows Columbia University (CU) and New York University (NYU) but nobody knows of CUNY in spite of it having 400,000 students. In fact, the problems of finance have made many of the members not able to be regular members of their faculties because there is not money to be able to pay them decent salaries. Then, this is the type of situation that is characteristic around the world and that is necessary to be reversed by the development of public compromises such as free education for all. Surely it is already known but today in the United States the student debt for higher education is estimated at 1 billion dollars (1 trillion [?]). Many students leave their careers owing a quarter or half a million dollars that have to be paid during their life. This is an incredible personal load, given that the debts last for life. Therefore, I believe that we need to guarantee as much higher education as there can be in the world, which is already free or at a very low cost, and with open access for whoever can get a university degree.

Regarding private education, it is not as clear that this can contribute to all the objectives mentioned. What we have seen, rather, is that the private interests of these universities, that in theory do not have to have profit as an objective, have worried more about accumulating more wealth and power. Even many private universities are now some of the most wealthy consortia in the world. For example, Harvard, Yale, or universities like these. Also there are increasingly more universities with the business structures, like those that deliver degrees online and whose quality is not decent at all.

Interestingly, a great many resources in the form of subsidies flow directly from the government toward these universities-businesses of poor quality, making their actions tilt toward monetary ends, even when these institutions serve no public purpose or criteria. There exists, for example, a great necessity to ensure that this type of institution does not take control. In Ecuador, for example, the government closed many of these institutions that were fragile and did not offer anything beneficial. I believe that this a very important step to be taken and that Ecuadorian university reform is essential for a continent like Latin America, in which the constant deterioration of the university educational system through the privatization and “corporatization” that extracts wealth without creating any use value at all can be seen.

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