Higher education in the West has become a commodity. There have been numerous articles, studies, posts, etc. about how universities now are now becoming sprawling institutions of administration geared toward making money (this Onion article may be satire, but it’s based in reality). There’s even a fake ‘title generator‘ that makes fake titles that sound, sadly, quite feasible in today’s modern university.
In American universities, there’s a need to publish before getting tenure. In the UK, there’s no tenure but a never-ending need to publish due to the REF (Research Excellence Framework). Unfortunately, this constant need to publish isn’t good for anyone. Due to the pressure to publish people at all levels of academia are affected.
Permanent staff have to publish each REF period or they won’t remain as permanent staff for long. To have time to research for their publishing, they need to get grants and project funding to get people to teach for them and then conduct their research and publish. The teachers of those normal classes will most likely be new early career academics, some sort of postdoc or even possibly as postgrad teacher. Whoever they are, they are most likely on a fixed-term contract, which has become the new normal. So teachers are now either part-time postgrads for full-time but temporary staff. Both groups are focused on their own research projects — either their PhDs or publishing that can lead to permanent posts. Which invariably affects teaching quality because they’re either new teachers or ones who care more about finding a permanent job than dealing with their current one. I actually met one professor who admitted he was more interested in research and writing than on teaching. He taught the same class year after year, never changing the syllabus or adapting the course because it meant less work for him. So he focused on his research and getting grants.
Of course, someone has to process the grant applications and then teaching applications — another administrator. Academics probably need help with finding and writing those grand applications, so another administrator of some sort. Once the academic has been published, someone has to advertise that fact to prospective students — look, this university is doing ground-breaking research, come here! So another administrator. It’s an endless loop of sprawling administration and fewer academic jobs. Indeed, there has been a spike in PhD graduates, but a decline in actual jobs for them.
I’m not the first to post about this endless loop. There have been books and blogs about how the labour in academia is commoditised. So much so that soon Facebook and Google may be offering degrees in the UK. Because nothing says academic rigour like Facebook. Still, not everyone is happy about this trend in academia. There are some who don’t appreciate the corporate structure, and who are resisting it.
If you’re thinking of going for a PhD, my advice is this: Don’t.