Not a company

A university is not a company.

Nowadays, money and profit are the ultimate argument. Sure, you can build a rock-solid reasoning, justify your position and explain pros and cons on some topic. But if someone manages to show that at some point there is lack of economic profit, you immediately have to bow to this superior, irrefutable argument. We have internalized that. Maybe it’s a sign of the times.

But that’s not true. I won’t start any long discussion about economy or neoliberalism. Let’s keep those topics aside as much as possible, but not everything is really a company.

The main (and almost only) goal of a company is to earn money. However, the main goal of a university is not (and it probably should never be) to earn money. It would be difficult and long to dissect what the goals of a university are, but I would say that universities exist for expanding knowledge. That can be accomplished spreading existing knowledge among individuals (teaching), generating new knowledge (research) or by other means. And expanding knowledge is a social, global mission. Societies need universities. Mankind needs universities. (Does this sound naïve? It’s because you’ve assumed… Well, go back to second paragraph.)

And universities are autonomous because it has been repeatedly proven that if a university is completely driven by or subordinated to economical, political, or any other illegitimate interests, it becomes a degenerate institution. A company that lasts for ten years, competes wildly in the short term, makes money and gets closed before losses arrive, is a successful business. Period. A university founded on the same grounds could give its awards for a reasonable price and little effort, attract hundreds of students, graduate them, and vanish. It would be a 100% successful business. But it would be an attack to social foundations.

Sure, much of the knowledge is economically useful. Sure, you can charge for this knowledge (be it teaching or research). Sure, you must connect universities to real world. Sure, you have to impose feasibility limits and restrictions to universities. Sure, you must stick to what’s possible at each moment with the available budget. Sure, many of the operations of a university are better managed and more efficient under a business approach, and many private initiatives are needed and welcome to higher education world. Sure, sure, sure.

But in the end, a university is not an institution whose main purpose is to make money. It can (and probably should) apparently lose reasonable amounts of money. And this idea is tightly connected to (and also supported by) others I expect to write down soon.



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