'TU Delft should educate minds rather than just hands'

Our university needs to adopt a new mindset, writes Phd-student Ali Haseltalab in this blog. And he has more solutions to the crisis he says TU Delft is in.

Ali Haseltalab: "The university should invest in enhancing the intellectual level of graduate and PhD students."
Ali Haseltalab: "The university should invest in enhancing the intellectual level of graduate and PhD students."

In my previous article, I explained how the commercialisation of universities endangers academic freedom and influences the intellectual level of academics and students.

The truth is that, in this modern era, universities, as public institutes, are in dire straits. In my view, universities are entangled in financial, legitimacy and identity crises. Universities are facing funding crises since they can no longer rely on public funding. Simply to be able to do their work every day and maintain high standards in the race for knowledge production, they are becoming increasingly more dependent on funds obtained from industry, the market and spiking tuition fees.

'What eventually emerges is an identity problem'

As universities are no longer public institutions working with public funds, the fiscal crisis gives rise to a legitimacy crisis. Universities are becoming more dependent on the private sector while at the same time withdrawing from direct conversation with their surrounding public and society.

Their dependency is making it more challenging to reflect their concerns to the public. As a result, the concept of public taxes being used to fund universities is losing credibility. What eventually emerges is an identity problem in which, in the face of the commodification of science and knowledge and the corporatisation of universities[i], academics and students stray from the objectives of higher education. This crisis is the greatest menace to fostering true critical thinking which extends its boundaries to include political, societal and global issues.

In my view, a university is a community which promotes critical discourse not only in and around university issues, but which also extends its boundaries of critical thinking to its surrounding society. It is also a deliberative democracy[ii] that is rooted in its surrounding public and engages in direct conversation with the society in which it is embedded.

'Universities should stimulate constructive extra-curricular activities rather than banal and pointless events'

The production and transmission of reflexive knowledge is as crucial as those of instrumental knowledge. A university is aware of the threats of the commodification of knowledge and promotes discussion about knowledge for what and for whom. If universities bore these features, the result would be the education of minds rather than just hands!

They would stimulate constructive extra-curricular activities rather than banal and pointless events. The stance of the university would not be neutral towards academia, society, the public and global issues, and student associations would promote discussions about important matters. Academic freedom and ethics would not be forgotten or misunderstood, and they would play substantial roles in the production of education and knowledge. And all in all, universities like these would be cradles for true Bildung to arise.

'The TPM faculty has fallen into the trap of commercialisation'

At TU Delft, the officials, executive board, scientists, intellectuals and student associations should get together and work on innovative solutions to promote Bildung and self-construction. The commercialisation culture should vanish without disrupting the university's financing. Academic freedom should be reinstated and at the same time an innovative system should be created to monitor the performance of students and academics.

I do certainly believe that the TPM faculty is very critical towards these issues, but it has fallen into the trap of commercialisation and economy. Its role should be redefined into one in which it questions current approaches or policies whose effects are taken for granted in the university. The university should create corridors to engage public opinion and to try to affect society in constructive ways. It should promote direct conversation with the public.

The university should also support autonomous initiatives, clubs and associations that are established to critically scrutinise political, societal, economic and environmental issues. Equally, the art and philosophy associations should be supported and encouraged to develop critical attitudes. Notable intellectuals, philosophers, sociologists and scientists should be invited to the university to deliver talks or to take part in debates. The university should invest in enhancing the intellectual level of graduate and PhD students.

'Our university needs to adopt a new mindset'

The first step could be to reshape the graduate school. Current approaches in promoting ethics and moralities should be reconsidered. The officials should contemplate the destructive effect of the commercialisation culture on scientific integrity and come up with novel methods to promote ethics in science. The workload and working conditions of academics should be analysed and their roles well-defined so they serve as true teachers and researchers rather than managers or budget catchers.

All in all, I realise that there are no simple solutions to achieving the ultimate goal of education in our era. But it does not mean that our university should drown in the commercialisation culture and other crises. Our university needs to adopt a new mindset as the result of a new culture. A strategic plan is needed urgently!

Responses to this article are more than welcome. E-mail us at delta@tudelft.nl. You can find Ali's other articles here.

[i] Michael Burawoy, The Public University – A Battleground For Real Utopias.

[ii] Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy in which deliberation is central to decision-making. It adopts elements of both consensus decision-making and majority rule.