It’s been a while since I wrote one of my meandering, self-centred posts, so here we go. This is a rant on the higher education system and the job market it ejects graduates into. It is also an attempt to try and bypass the massive roadblock my dissertation-writing seems to have hit. The 10,000-word paper I need to write to finish my degree is supposed to form the core of my existence at the moment, but for every article of academic writing I read, I feel the overwhelming need to offset its verbosity with some good, honest fiction.
I’m reading three books at the moment: Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Margo Lanagan’s Brides of Rollrock Island and Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes For Anna. I realise I’ve thus covered the categories of adult, young adult and children’s fiction all at once, probably a first for me. Which of these books I read on any given night before going to bed depends on the kinds of articles I have read through the day. I would honestly have struggled without these books. When you’ve just finished reading a seemingly promising article that describes two concepts in great detail, only to finish with the enlightening bit of information that the correlation between them- which is what you have been looking for all along- is still being researched, you cannot help but marvel at the journals willing to publish such claptrap.
What is at work in academic circles- cliques of scholars protecting one another’s interests and ensuring that a business flourishes at the expense of thousands of students around the world, many paying for degrees only because they need that university certificate to get one of the much coveted jobs for which there is fierce competition? Adding insult to injury are the various internships that employ students for free, promising them the experience that may not quite count for much in the real world, where influence and connections often trump everything else. It doesn’t stop there- some internships require you to have interned earlier to prove you are good enough to join their circles. They aren’t willing to take risks with newcomers- they have a carefully built and publicised reputation to protect. Universities churn out graduates who know their books cover to cover, but have little experience of practical life. So what exactly does the degree count towards? Can’t theoretical and practical knowledge be sensibly combined so graduates don’t have to waste that extra time or money prepping themselves for a vicious job market?
When they tell you at every step of life that if you work hard now, things are only going to get better, they aren’t really telling the truth, are they? Things only get intense, you have either the time or the money but rarely both. Find a job, get married, get serious about life. Go out and compete against people who, for various reasons, have gone to the top universities and stand a better chance than you simply by virtue of the circles they move in. One off day, one exam gone wrong might have ruined your chances of being a part of those cliques, perhaps disqualifying you forever in the eyes of their alumni who make the decisions. Never mind. Start fighting all over again; what can you lose at this point?
What galls me about the dissertation-writing process is the need to conform to a particular format. There seems to be little room for originality. I have to explain using an established theoretical framework the problems with some literature that suits my purpose, and the few remaining words I have left, squeeze in my own ideas. I like having more room than that to manoeuvre in: I’m not attempting to have a paper published, so why can I not use a pattern that suits my style? I understand that my paper should make sense and be well substantiated with proper evidence- but for some reason, there seems to be little emphasis on originality. Also, why should academic writing make itself so inaccessible to people without a background in the subject? I’d like to learn about financial crises, but do the explanations really have to be ensconced in complex narrative? Simplicity is a lost art.
This isn’t a rant against higher education in general- but just some facets that I think would do well with an overhaul, starting with the elitism. If it is frowned upon in every other sphere of life, why not in academia? Higher education at the most famous institutes is available only to those with plenty of money to spare- and when they graduate, they work hard to monopolise the system. Are things going to change in the near future? Not likely. Now that a pattern has been set, how can we even dream of veering ever so slightly from it?
Rant over, I should be able to get on with my dissertation now. There are still several decent scholars around who don’t flaunt their Rushdie-esque vocabulary through their papers and get to the point pretty quickly, and they are the ones I shall rely on.