Academic teaching at its limit

Academic teaching at its limit

In the following blog post, the Marburg initiative ReVerBi (Revolt against the marketization of education) takes a stand on these grievances within two comments.

17.07.2021

Germany

Capitol: Berlin

Inhabitants: 83.155.031

Hesse: Wiesbaden, inhabitants: 6.293.154

Translation

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ReVerBi is an alliance of student councils, university groups, committed students and the AStA of the Philipps-Universität Marburg with a common goal: the revolt against the marketization of education. We have founded ourselves because of the current situation at the department 03: Savings are to be made at our department because of a deficit, although already the last years were saved at teaching capacities. We find it unacceptable that our teaching should suffer because a department of social sciences and philosophy does not receive enough money. However, the circumstances that we want to address because of this go far beyond our university and disciplines and concern the financing of universities and education in general.

ReVerBi is an alliance of student councils, university groups, committed students and the AStA of the Philipps-Universität Marburg with a common goal: the revolt against the marketization of education. We have founded ourselves because of the current situation at the department 03: Savings are to be made at our department because of a deficit, although already the last years were saved at teaching capacities. We find it unacceptable that our teaching should suffer because a department of social sciences and philosophy does not receive enough money. However, the circumstances that we want to address because of this go far beyond our university and disciplines and concern the financing of universities and education in general.

First commentary:

Situation at the faculty

Stop cost-cutting measures – fund universities – permanent positions for permanent tasks

Broken floors, old scratched tables and a dilapidated digital infrastructure. This is how we know the Faculty of Philosophy (PhilFak for short) on Wilhelm-Röpke-Strasse in Marburg. It is an ideal symbol for the overall state of academic teaching in Hesse and Germany. But the dilapidated buildings and the lack of digitization are just the tip of an iceberg called structural underfunding. The universities receive too little money, and we as students see this primarily in the condition of the buildings. But teaching also suffers massively under the current conditions. But it is precisely this that is difficult for us to recognize, because we have never experienced it any other way.

All the frontal teaching, multiple-choice exams and the focus on degrees and exams (instead of content); overcrowded seminars as well as inadequate support from the lecturers are consequences of underfunding. The fact that many students have been confronted with university overcrowding since the beginning of their studies tempts one to misjudge the current conditions as unchangeable. But we know from lecturers and reports from the time before Bologna that things can be done differently: deeper engagement with the study content, greater seminar selection and opportunities for trial and error, ungraded learning steps up to the first degree, and less hierarchical learning with and from one another.

With the planned cost-cutting measures at the Department 03: Social Sciences and Philosophy, the precarious situation is ignored and the deficit in the form of pressure and overload is consistently transferred to the students, the scientific & administrative-technical staff and teachers. The precarious situation becomes even more noticeable in times of online teaching. Although this requires more supervision anyway, the planned cost-cutting measures will already take effect in the coming semester: fewer student tutorials, fewer lecturers.

Even before the closure of the universities because of Corona and before the cost-cutting measures, seminars were held at the Department 03 with over 100 people (Political Science, Sociology) and tutorials for freshmen in Sociology with over 30 people. In the winter semester 2020/21, tutorials were held online with 40 students. Since the number of student tutorials at the department is to be almost halved for cost reasons, the situation will become even worse. The fact that tutorials are essential for familiarization with topics, since it is precisely there that content and questions of understanding can be discussed more informally, is not taken into account.

However, the institutes do not make these cutback decisions voluntarily. Rather, they are presented to the departmental committees from above as having no alternative. In addition to the unwillingness to simply accept the cost-cutting measures and grudgingly implement them, the institutes are haggling over material resources and the lecturers over the tutorial positions paid for by them.

However, cutting jobs without creating glaring vacancies in the teaching offer cannot really be the solution to the problem. The vacant mid-level faculty positions and the additional student support needs created by the elimination of tutorials will further exacerbate the mid-level faculty situation, and it is clear that the support deficit, as well as the budget deficit, cannot be addressed as a result.

Corona and the resulting conversion to online teaching have further exacerbated many of the aforementioned problems in Department 03. Not only are student assistant positions to remain unfilled, but a general contract freeze of 1 1/2 years (as of May 2021) is to be enforced for the appointment of new professors and research assistants. And where positions remain vacant, the step to complete elimination is not far away. How are teaching and the flow of information supposed to function well?

Deficit at FB 03: How could it come to such a glaring situation?

Logo ReVerBi

The deficit of about 1 million euros, which the Department 03 has accumulated over the years, could only arise because both the university teaching and its financing were structurally handled completely wrong. For example, financial resources are linked to highly fluctuating per capita calculations of student numbers. However, students outside the standard period of study or in second degree programs are not taken into account within this calculation. On the one hand, this means that the actual overload or capacity utilization in terms of student numbers is not recorded on paper, making it easier to legitimize cuts in university jobs.

This means that funding is not linked to content, student ratios or even demand.

The decision to further cut already scarce funding suggests that the department itself is responsible for this deficit. This is a fatal misconception, since the voluntary over-utilization of the events (130%) in recent years, for a not to be underestimated own commitment of the members of the department stand.

Due to the division of responsibilities from the allocation of funds to the university (state) to the department (senate/presidium) and the allocation of funds to the institutes (dean’s office), all responsible bodies refer to each other without acknowledging their own responsibility – and without pulling together.

As a student initiative, we say that a change of course towards content and good supervision ratios would benefit the department, the university and of course the students and teachers.

Angela Dorn (B90/The Greens), Hesse’s Minister of Education, responded to years of neglect of Hesse’s universities with the so-called Higher Education Pact. The problem: Instead of project-independent basic funding, the focus is on third-party funding and project support. The focus on external funds (third-party funding) and project funding further exacerbates the precarious situation of underfunded departments. Universities with a structural budget deficit are excluded from the competition for funding by the fact that quality in teaching, a better support situation and good working conditions are usually only rewarded with the necessary financial resources when these goals are achieved. As a result, universities and departments that already have enough money are given preference and the others are further ignored until they eventually have to be cut. In the process, critical research then falls by the wayside and that must not happen!

The state and federal governments must stop distributing funds according to standards of competition between universities and finally start creating real and sufficient basic funding for research and teaching.

The university administration, instead of being concerned with external appearance and making superficial cosmetic repairs, such as removing posters for student events, should rather work with us for fully funded and vibrant teaching.

We finally want money for good education!

You are interested in the subject, want to know more about the situation of the university and the department?

We function like many other political groups: We meet weekly in a common plenum to make decisions together and to discuss everything that is relevant for the whole group. In addition, there are working groups (AG’s) that meet outside of the large plenum and work on specific topics. We are always happy to welcome new faces.

Visit our website (https://Reverbi2021.wixsite.com/Revolte) and social media accounts @reverbi2021, write us an email (reverbi2021@web.de) or drop by our plenum and talk to your fellow students about the issue!

https://www.change.org/p/grundfinanzierung-statt-profite-mit-bildung-stopthecuts

– Reversal of austerity measures & job freezes
– Finally fund universities
– More teaching staff
– Equal representation on university committees
– Opening of the BAföG for all
– Away with the standard periods of study
– A faster inclusive and barrier-free expansion of the university
– Collective agreements for all student employees
– Recognition of the importance of critical education and the faculty for society and democracy.

Second commentary:

The entrepreneurial university as a misguided concept of funding, teaching and research

„Issues like structural discrimination and justice, sustainability and tolerance – these issues just don’t lend themselves well to profit.“

The Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Marburg, Image copyright: ReVerBi

Since the Bologna reforms, all universities and colleges (group university, full university) are becoming companies. All university structures are restructured according to entrepreneurial criteria1, i.e. according to principles such as cost minimization, profit and growth.                                                                                                             Subjects that are not relevant to the market, i.e. those that do not train for needed professions and thus are not exploitable, or serve society rather than the market, are ’slimmed down‘ and cut back until they can no longer sustain themselves. This affects, among others, the whole field of social sciences and philosophy, but also other sciences and subjects that could provide answers to many problems, especially in the current crisis.                                                                                                                So what often falls by the wayside is precisely what is important for a fair, functioning society: topics such as structural discrimination and justice, sustainability and tolerance – these topics just don’t lend themselves so well to profit. If these departments and courses of study are cut away, the question arises: who then does research on overcoming racism, who then does research on the causes of burnouts, and who does research on democracy, institutions, and ways to improve?

What will fall by the wayside?

The students‘ demands for study program reform, which are precisely to the content and organizational structure of the course were answered by the academic side [university management, note LB] by imposing extreme administrative pressure on the students to perform.2

Uwe Bergmann

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As early as around 1968, studies and teaching were constricted by pressure to perform and deprived of the possibility of free academic development as well as joint research.
The orientation of universities towards corporate structures after the 2000s intensified the tendency and students are more and more seen as customers and profit figures instead of (full) members of the university. This definition of students and their studies is in direct contrast to the focus on gaining knowledge in methods and subject knowledge, personality development and self-determination.

Economic constraints create enormous pressure to complete studies in the shortest possible time, which is even greater for students with limited financial resources. There is a plethora of repressive regulations designed to ‚motivate‘ faster study: Forced de-registration through maximum study time in Bavaria, long-term study fees and second study fees in (Lower) Saxony and other federal states, etc.3 (Cf. also under this link).

This makes it more difficult for students from ’non-academic‘ households to adapt to the academic world. BAföG should also be mentioned here, because the state support program is linked to the standard period of study and the acquisition of so-called credit points (Leistungspunkte). In addition, it is claimed that a long course of study would (supposedly) reduce the chances of employment in an already tight labor market. Thus, real academic depth remains elusive for today’s students, especially if they are short on funds.

The constraints imposed by university and state structures on students, employees, and even the universities themselves have also steadily intensified in recent decades. For example, universities run into financial difficulties when they have students over the standard period of study or in second degree programs, since these are not included in university funding, which depends on the number of students.

This in turn exacerbates structural underfunding, so that from an economic point of view, universities are interested on the one hand in getting as many (first-time) students as possible to enroll each year, and on the other hand in getting everyone back on the job market (with a degree) as quickly as possible. This amounts to a discrepancy between the academic ideal to strive for and the real orientation of the universities.

We would like to end with a quotation, which describes why it is important, among other things, to stand up against the marketization of education:

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The question arises, however, why it should make sense to defend the university as an independent island in capitalism […]. One reason could be the social conditions themselves: If emancipation is a precondition for a liberated society in which all coercion is reduced to the absolute minimum, and a precondition for emancipation is education, then it is necessary to defend this education. Under capitalist conditions, however, there is no education as such, or rather, ‚education‘ is increasingly attacked and replaced by ‚training‘. An institution in which critical education and thus emancipation becomes possible must be preserved or created in its remnants. […] Here emancipation has to be applied as a maxim. Whether a university can completely fulfill these requirements or whether such a university is attainable and also defensible in capitalism cannot be answered. However, it would be to try.4

Jan Schröder Ighalo

Authors
Karl M., Luise B. und Lara Z.
from the Marburg initiative ReVerBi

Sources

  1. Münch, Richard (2011): Akademischer Kapitalismus. Über die politische Ökonomie der Hochschulreform. Berlin: surkamp Verlag.

  2. Bergmann, Uwe (1968): Uwe Bergmann. In: Uwe Bergmann, Rudi Dutschke, Wolfgang Lefèvre, Bernd Rabehl: Rebellion der Studenten oder Die neue Opposition. Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, S.7-32.

  3. Universität Dresden (2021): Studiengebühren, abgerufen unter: https://tu-dresden.de/studium/im-studium/studienorganisation/studiengebuehren. Zuletzt abgerufen am 07.07.2021.

  4. Schröder, Jan (2009): Zum Symbol „1968“, zum Hochschulumbau und zur studentischen Protestkultur. In: Andreas Keller, Sonja Staack (Hrsg.): Innovation durch Partizipation. Steuerung von Hochschulen und Forschungseinrichtungen im 21. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: W.Bertelsmann Verlag, S.51-56.

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