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Debate: Privatized education

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Should public education systems be opened to privatization?

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  • Profit interests are counter to the larger mission of education: United Nations Literacy Decade 2003-2012. United Nations. October-December 2002 - "Teachers oppose wholesale privatization of education and point to its defects. Business people do not always act in the public interest. In the long run the drive for profit can push private universities to emphasize subjects and courses directly linked to the market, such as commercial studies or marketing, so as to attract students, to the detriment of less 'profitable' subjects such as philosophy, psychology or history. 'And what will become of pure research in a world ruled only by profit?' asks Monique Fouilhoux, Education Coordinator of Education International, the world’s biggest teachers’ union.
This short-term vision, dictated by industry’s need for manpower, leaves little room for meeting the challenges of the future. We cannot predict what kind of knowledge will be needed tomorrow. “When the oil crisis hit Europe in the early 1970s, some countries, like France and the Nordic states, realized how little they knew about the Arab world, so university courses sprung up to teach the subject,” says Sjur Bergan, head of the Council of Europe’s Higher Education and Research Committee. “This is why the widest possible range of subjects must be offered.”
The role of universities is not just to train managers. Their role is also to turn out enlightened citizens who go on to play leading roles in their countries. “In Mexico, higher education used to be seen as a social and political programme in itself,” comments Sylvie Didou Aupetit, a researcher at Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute. “You expected to get something back in terms of the country’s development. But nowadays, a society-friendly approach like that is giving way to a commercial attitude.” On top of this, students from developing countries do not all return home after getting their education abroad.
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