The main customers of universities are not the companies.
I insist on arguing that the whole approach based on the graduate being a product made by a university by transforming some raw materials (students) is wrong. I can't shallow that reduction of educational institutions to a merely economic process. And the final stage of production is selling. To a customer. And the customer rules. And who is the customer of a university?
The answer seems to be obvious these days. Accepting that the university is a farm where we feed chicken for the market, who's going to eat the meat? The companies.
Yes, it seems that the companies rule. The academic programmes must fit the companies needs. The whole teaching and learning process must obey the rules of professional performance. If something is useless for the companies, it must be taken out of universities.
Let's put it tactfully. Who am I serving when I work as a university teacher? Who does pay my salary? Maybe the companies?
I think a university teacher must consider several responsibilities. In my opinion, he should work for:
- The society.
- The student as an individual.
- The science and the knowledge.
Sure, it sounds naïve, as I said before. But I think we have a real problem if this sounds naïve.
It's obvious that working for the society implies working for the companies that need graduates. We should help our students to develop themselves as far as they can. To take their potential as far as possible. And to become prepared for an excellent performance in a company.
- Companies are quite different from each other; in many cases, they have opposite approaches to the same business. The best we can do to offer good chickens to companies is to produce (!) chickens who are excellent on their own.
- Companies, production processes, tools... change on a daily basis. Trying to focus on making students fit "the tool of the week" is pointless. That tool will be over when they graduate. Making the academic cycle shorter, as politics strive to do, will be no help. Business will always move faster than the shortest possible academic cycle.
- Let's face it: very many companies do not appreciate human resources. They want meat. They want chickens. But that doesn't mean that we must produce chickens. The autonomy, well-being and self-esteem of our students is crucial. Because they will also be citizens. Because if a company is not interested in observing the minimal rules of fair professional practice, we need our professionals and citizens to be able to tell the diference, and to say "I'm not accepting this".
It will never be easy to tell right from wrong in academic goals and practices, even if our only customer were the companies. But actually they aren't. The aren't even the main customer. We serve companies only for one reason, and it's because, indirectly, when serving companies we're serving the society and the individual. When their respective interests collide... please, don't even think that the solution is obvious. And if it is, it probably won't be to just stick at some company's desires.