In a previous comment of this blog, Mr. Richard Edelstein makes very interesting and balanced remarks about the Bologna Process and about the future of management education in Europe. He implicitly advocates for a consensual and participative approach as regards the implementation of the Bologna Accord, something not only desirable but even necessary for the viability of the whole process, but that has occurred only partially to date. The only official platform for the participation of education stakeholders is the Bologna Follow-up Group (BFUG), a body not sufficiently representative of the groups affected by reforms in higher education. Indeed, education is a social activity where many diverse and socially active stakeholders meet –professors, university administrators and staff, students, employers, industry associations, just to mention some- and whose opinions should be taken into account. At the same time, it is well known how difficult is to conduct a process with so many parties and achieve effective results on time.
In particular, I would like to address two ideas that come to me when reading Mr. Edelstein’s comment, although I believe he plausibly describes the current situation.
The first one is encapsulated in his reference to education as “a domain where national culture and identity are promulgated and insured for future generations”. I would like to disagree with the whole idea of what is generally expressed by “national culture”. “Nations” and “nationalities” are legal and political constructs, not entities in themselves. Talking about “nations”, and consequently about “natural culture”, as if they were real things, like a person, is a sort of metaphysical recreation that has resulted in very bad historical experiences. We live in times when defenders of extreme nationalism spur the use of a plethora of supposed entities to a supposed “national reality”: “national spirit”, “national values” and the like. I have been always very sceptical about the use of ideas associated to the concept “nation”. I hope you will not get me wrong. I love my country and I respect diversity –regional, linguistic, etc.- but I mistrust the abuse of the expression “nation” in politics for demagogic purposes.
Getting back to Mr. Edelstein’s tenet, I believe that the community values to which he refers are probably acquired in the first stages of education. University is not a place to instil “national values” into students. Fortunately, university students are mature enough to recognise propaganda. In any case, the Bologna Process is about autonomy, liberty and opening universities to competition and I am sure that it will promote the study of regional dialects and history of particular nations. This is the consequence of globalisation: it promotes convergence but at the same time enhances cultural differences.
Mr. Edelstein further states that education is a “public good” –again, a legal construct. I would add that is also a constitutional right since in most European countries the state has a role in controlling the quality of degrees with official recognition and the duty to guaranteeing education, at least until a certain stage. However, I do not see any conflict between accepting this state role and at the same leaving room for autonomy and private education. We need to learn from the American system, where there is a very lively coexistence between private and public universities –the first ones leading the rankings. Let the market work. Universities in Europe have not competed for a very long time and competition is healthy for the quality of education. After all, the market is the sum of all of us, the market is the people, it is “we”, isn’t it?