Commodification of education and its consequences

The Health Professions Council of Zambia has been given the responsibility for maintaining standards and quality in Zambia’s higher education institutions. While this quango may ensure threshold standards, it is more doubtful whether it can help medical training institutions to attain and sustain high academic quality.

Education is now fully a commodity in this country. And those dealing in this commodity want to produce it at the lowest possible cost and sell it at the highest possible price. These institutions are not primarily there to serve a human need but to make money – they are businesses out to maximise profits.
It remains to be seen whether the Health Professions Council of Zambia will manage to control the academic corporatism represented by these institutions of higher learning. Can these institutions really be made to resist the pressures of the market?

This week, the Health Professions Council of Zambia withdrew the approval certificates for some training programmes currently being offered at Lusaka Apex Medical and Cavendish universities. Announcing these withdrawals, the Health Professions Council of Zambia registrar Dr Aaron Mujajati said they will not allow the training of “assassins”.
“The Health Professions Council of Zambia wishes to inform the general public, stakeholders and students about the withdrawal of approval certificates for training programmes which are offered by Lusaka Apex Medical University. We have withdrawn two programmes namely; Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and Bachelor of Science in Radiography. We have withdrawn three programmes from Cavendish University which are Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgeon, a qualification people obtain to become doctors. We have also withdrawn Bachelor of Clinical Medicine and Bachelor of Science in Public Health. Some of the reasons at Lusaka Apex Medical University programmes under medicine, the Dean did not have post graduate qualifications which is against the standards of the council. The coordinator of the course did not have the five years teaching experience. The institution has over-enrolled up to 740 students against five full time lecturers, four of which are not qualified to teach pharmacy and they have inadequate seating capacity and inadequate books in the library. No clinical instructors are available for students and the laboratory does not meet the required standards. It’s the same, if not similar picture, in Radiography where the Dean’s qualifications are unknown and only one lecturer is teaching over 100 students. At Cavendish University, the withdrawal of programmes is for the following reasons; they do not have teaching staff for all programmes, especially programmes that produce doctors. They have no lecturers to teach paediatrics, because the requirement is that they have to have full time lecturers. They have failed to meet the standard of 50 per cent full time lecturers and 50 per cent part time. Some teaching staff do not have the Health Professions Council of Zambia certificates and registration which is the case for both schools. Cavendish does not have laboratories to train doctors and they have issues of inadequate space…Let me state that schools that train health care workers should not be engaged in dangerous cost saving measures because as council, our main interest is, we are accountable to the public and our job is to keep our public safe. Institutions should produce health workers and not assassins. We are not in the business of allowing this type of violation of standards,” said Dr Mujajati.

The commodification of education seems to be the order of the day in Zambia today. The free market philosophy has entered our educational sphere in a big way. Market relevance is becoming the key orientating criterion for the selection of discourses, their relation to each other, their forms and their research. Promotion of private sector is increasingly seen as the solution to the problems and failings of public education. Within current policy discourse, the disciplines of competition and profit are taken to provide an effective and efficient alternative to bureau-professional regimes of
deliberation and procedure, which have organised and delivered public education in our country over the last 50 years. The private is idealised and romanticised, while the bureau-professional regime of public welfare provision is consistently and unthinkingly
demonised. This movement has profound implications, from primary schools to universities. Its impact is particularly damaging to education in a country like ours with a substantial population of poor people.
The dramatic trend towards commercialisation of education in Zambia mainly materialises itself in mushrooming for-profit educational institutions from primary schools to universities. Fees have skyrocketed in recent years as the result of commercial operations introduced by an increasing number of schools and universities.
Consequently, education has become the most profitable industry in Zambia, second only to real estate. This has led to all sorts of cost cutting in a bid to maximise profits.
The commodification of education is not simply a technical change in
the management of the delivery of educational services. It involves changes in the meaning and experience of education, what it means to be a teacher, a lecturer and a learner. It changes who we are, our relation to what we do, and the
framework of possibilities within which we act. It is thus a process of social
transformation, a change that is part of a more general set of movements in the terrain of the social. With the emphasis on the lucrative nature of the education business, its effect is detrimental.
The present situation shows that education is an area ripe for financial
profit. And the extent of commercialisation is growing at a frightening speed. It’s destroying our education and there’s need for government action to place limits on its degree to protect certain essential education values.

Corporatisation is very quickly transforming our education sector into an
enterprise for profits. And the tradition of academic freedom is under pressure from private interests.
Given this situation, the efforts of the Health Professions Council of Zambia, very limited as they may be, are commendable. But they need to apply to public universities as well.
We will only salvage something from
the prevailing neoliberal wave if we establish sound institutions. Without the necessary support of institutional infrastructure, the
commodification of education will affect us even more seriously.
The commodification of education hits the poor harder. The Breton Woods institutions have always included in their advice packages the need to reduce government over-
heads by making all citizens pay for their education. They suggest that the introduction of market forces into education will raise the performance of the education system. The premise, however, has been based on faith rather than hard facts. After a decade of school reform initiatives informed by the faith, increasing empirical studies suggest those policies have a stratifying effect, by social class, even when they are explicitly designed
to remedy inequality.
Public education is a public good. It is one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development
and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and so on and so forth. As a public good and a contribution to the development of a just society, education is important to all. Let’s all unite and resist the aggressive invasion of corporate market principles, and commercial values in
education. There are a number of challenges we must face successfully if we are to maintain the notion of education as a fundamental good that benefits all in a civilised society. Otherwise, just development will remain a fond dream forever especially for our poor people.

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