BM 66 – Students oppose the commodification of higher education and science
In December 2013, the newly elected government in Austria decided to merge the Ministry of Science and Research with the Ministry of Economics, abolishing thereby the former Ministry of Science and Research that had operated separately and existed in Austria since the 1970s.
A concept in which higher education institutions are regarded as places where young people are formed into individuals fit for the labour market, has recently become dominant and thus, neglecting the benefits that the society can gain. In the light of these developments, ESU strongly criticises the integration of the country’s Ministry of Science and Research with the Ministry of Economics. This demonstrates the lack of importance given to this area by the new government.
At the same time, higher education institutions in many countries are facing the necessity to become suppliers for corporations not only in their educational activity, but also in their research. While there is no reason why an economy should not benefit from conducted research, a strong dependence on private stakeholders to finance it can negatively influence the independence and diversity of research and education. Science does rely on a sceptical approach to prevalent assumptions and methods, which can be difficult to maintain if the methods in question are the business model of the financial backers of higher education institutions. For science to be truly innovative, it must be allowed to stray away from a straightforward path, to try new things, and quite often to find nothing but something that does not work. Unfortunately, the freedom to try new things is profitable only in the bigger picture; a single private corporation would be ill advised to fund an institution without a clearly defined output. Therefore, ESU sees it as a duty of the government to guarantee the diversity and freedom in research that is needed for any society to develop. In contrast, the lack of an independent ministry responsible for science and research invites the threat of further commodifying this field.
Moreover, science and education at higher education institutions require an adequate foundation of public funding. Higher education should be given increased significance in political decisions and should be acknowledged as a prosperous asset, not only for economies, but also for the society as a whole.
ESU stands in solidarity with ÖH and fully supports its pledge for a separate Ministry of Science and Research to ensure the independence of scientific research and higher education.