Rethinking university

Zeng Fanzhi 'Being' exhibition in Hong Kong, China - 26 May 2011“I had a very pure life as a student, no market, no gallery…a wonderful state. Young artists now face different challenges, too much information, confusion, temptations. If you can’t find yourself, you’re finished,” told Zeng Fazhi the Financial Times‘ journalist Jackie Wullschlager earlier this year.

Fazhi’s statement can be proven as being right. As I am studying at Kingston University, one of London’s universities where the latest crème de la crème of artists and designers is let out into the real world after three years of training, I have acknowledged that art or fashion design schools are not only focusing on developing an artist’s personality.  Furthermore, do they focus on the greater picture of a (hopefully) going-to-be successful young emerging artist.

This includes, that new artists are additionally trained in self-promotion

 to get their names out in the industry, owning to the excellent relations to the art market of their universities.

Notably, graduates are highly engaged in taking part in projects and competitions even during their course.

On one side, this constitutes an encouragement to perform well and to become truly devoted to one’s university course.

Better academic results, more professional experience and higher achievements can be forecasted with a greater probability.

On the other side, learning by rethinking modules and taking one’s time to learn from other peoples’ mistakes does not find place in everyday life. Especially, as the UK’s university system is very intense and demanding during term periods. As a result, time for self-reflection is rare.

Most of the art students will not be aware of what is going on in the business side of universities. Interestingly, university courses in the UK and in the United States are primarily focused on quotes, achievements of students and less on the process of learning for the sake of deliberation.

This approach towards education is very questionable as it does not focus entirely on the content students are employed with, but more on showing off one’s work.

For instance, the university of Roehampton is advertising its course on South West trains as one of the best universities in London in terms of employment after graduating.

This advertisement made me think about the approach towards higher education in the UK. It seems to me that it deals to a large amount with numbers. Just to mention some: which ranking holds your university, have you gained a first-honours degree, have you done high-profile internships and how much of your work has been integrated into the real world?

Are high grades and employability everything what a university should equip its students with? Is this a guarantee of a successful and happy life?

I put up resistance to the commercialized direction into which the university system – not only in the UK – is moving towards. How can you be sure that skyrocketing-high tuition fees at world’s leading institutions offer the best higher education system? It has to be considered, that excellent universities in Germany, Switzerland and in Austria are hardly charging any money for higher education in comparison to about $50,000 in the US for a Masters. The German-speaking system is different. Does this mean that it is less effective in terms of the quality of its eduction?

Remembering the words of the world-famous Chinese artist Fazhi, back in the days university was not about gaining relationship to businesses, BUT was it centred on the student’s personal development.


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