It’s that time of year again: vast concourses lined with tubs of spring blossoms, coffee carts, stalls selling T-shirts and memorabilia, food stands, DJs, demonstrations, talks and performances. Amid the slightly contrived fun and bustle, the public queues for information that might change their life, for a chance to meet face-to-face with a performer, perhaps even a selfie with them. Perhaps just to browse and fill their showbag with freebies, to be tossed into a corner of the bedroom and forgotten.I’m not talking about university open day but Sexpo, where the sex industry markets itself to a public that has come to expect instant gratification through endless online encounters with simulacra of the real thing.
The problems are business problems, however, not educational ones. The apprentice model works, and is likely the only one that does given the way we evolved. But it is not financially viable for universities forced to treat students as an income stream.
To persuade kids that the product they are being offered (“learn physiotherapy on your phone”; “tweet your way to the High Court Bench”; “present your thesis in three minutes”. Why, for god’s sake?) is not just as good as but actually superior to the old-fashioned one. No one who teaches face-to-face believes this, ...
This is why universities employ whole faculties (education) and even divisions (marketing, student experience) devoted to online satisfaction of the client’s desires.
When you see the venerable professor of classics or physics wearing the company T-shirt and standing by their stall pitching, the potential customers being shepherded past by their parents, the industry leaders shaking hands like electioneering politicians, it’s hard not to feel dirty. But Michel Houllebecq (“who she?” asks the online French studies facilitator) provides the consolation of a philosophy customised for modern life. He reminds us that people will accept, and even embrace, any humiliation in the domain of sex “as long as it is sanctified by commerce”. Why not education?Disclosure: the author is an employee of the University of Western Australia, and the views expressed are those of the author and not those of the University.