The Commodification of Knowledge

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Traditional studies about the role of the University and its past and present changes have revolved around discourses about social and institutional developments. However there is a recent shift towards discourse surrounding the idea of the University as a capitalist venture that is putting a price on attaining higher levels of knowledge. With booms in the availability of scholarly articles on the Internet and subsequent lack of funding for scholarly research, there is an increase in the way in which our education is becoming commodified. Andrew Whelan (2013) labels this trend as moving from an ‘information scarcity to an information surplus’.

 

As with other employees, academics effectively sell their labour to provide a level of subsistence for themselves. This notion of ‘selling labour’, however, seems to be at odds with the idea that Universities are supposed to be about providing services for the ‘greater good’ of the community. If the original aims of of this institution were to place value on the advancement of people and the ‘truth’, then how did it suddenly complete a 180 degree turn and become about maximising economic returns?

 

There are two points of view that are interesting to consider here. The first, is that social forces have rendered the skills possessed by academics not as individualised skills that may be bargained with by the academic to obtain leverage in the labour market, but rather as a necessity to society – this establishes academics as disposable commodities. Secondly, in order to maintain and income the academics themselves must necessarily commodify their skills in order to remain competitive and get funding directed their way. And what is even more troublesome is the fact that we, as students, are paying for a service that effectively places us in this web of commodification – as Whelan (2013) puts it, education basically makes us a slightly higher commodity to be utilised in the labour market rather than turning us into simply more intelligent human beings. We must question why there is a price on, effectively, knowledge, and why this causing huge social inequities both for academics and for potential students.

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