The university is a hierarchical institution that
protects the elites by awarding them cultural capital and
whitewashing their reputation. It upholds existing inequalities and
indoctrinates students into the reigning ideology. Universities serve
the vested interests of the state, corporations and wealthy donors.
They control and distribute knowledge in ways that empower the rich
to get richer.
Hierarchy is baked into the structure and mission
of the university. The elites go to university in order to
distinguish themselves from ordinary folks.
The university provides formal education that
helps run the system and extend its life. It inculcates entitlement
and defines the proper manners of the ruling classes. University
education establishes and maintains the pecking order that elevates a
few individuals and relegates the rest to the derogatory category of
laypeople or the uninitiated.
A Cambridge or Harvard degree is viewed with
veneration that defies logic. Universities depend on magical thinking
to promote their brand and image. They feed off myths and delusions
that subvert humanity. Magical thinking, however, goes against the
core principles of scientific endeavour and critical judgment.
The university teaches students that knowledge is
valued within legitimate frameworks and should serve the dominant
agenda. Higher education gives nuance and subtlety to the injustice
that permeates society. It shapes the image of the establishment and
helps it preserve and grow its assets.
In a free society, knowledge is open and
democratic. In contrast, the university builds hierarchical
relationships and a closed circle of experts. Even if education can
set us free and unleash the creative potential of humanity,
universities are no bastions of freedom or creativity. There is a
sense of adventure and free exploration in science that university
education fails to deliver.
The university is not a haven of freedom that some
academics imagine it to be. They may carve out safe spaces inside the
institution, but that kind of illusory liberty can also be obtained
outside academia. This is based on the power that professors have won
over the larger community. The academic pyramid is another instance
of the oppressive mode of existence that anarchists abhor. Far from
an exception, subjugation is one of the pillars of university
education. By definition, the competition for privilege cannot be
Universities conform to the provisions of
copyright law and restricted access to knowledge as a tradeable
commodity. Academic research is published in peer-reviewed journals
that hide articles behind paywalls. Only affluent organisations and
individuals can access scientific knowledge, as multinational
publishing corporations have seized the means of its dissemination.
Academic publishing is now primarily a business.
It is no coincidence that university is run as a
company. This seemingly ancient institution has managed to survive
for so long because it assumes the structure and power dynamics that
currently dominate humanity. In the medieval times, it was
subservient to the church. Today universities are corporations
managed by sleazy capitalists.
The university is part of the neoliberal order and
the gig economy, as more and more academics have short-term contracts
and work for slave wages, while the entitled few enjoy permanent
positions. The inequality between senior professors and precarious
staff has sharpened class consciousness: junior researchers, doctoral
candidates, and part-time lecturers organise to stand up for their
Academics are valued for their ability to win
grant money. This mercantile approach to education prioritises
capital and dehumanises scholarly efforts as their goal is not to
improve the world but rather to create value for the university.
subscribe to the capitalist mode of value production, the monetary
worth of an academic degree is the key criterion of academic
achievement. Even by this metric, universities have failed students.
University education has become a debt trap.
While the elites reap the lion's share of the
benefits, most participants in the higher education process get
Cultural capital associated with university
education is reinforced by financial strength. At a certain level, it
is one and the same as university weds knowledge to power and money.
Universities are not only chasing state funding,
but also wooing private benefactors. In return, the wealthy expect
nothing less than the validation of their authority. Greedy
capitalists donate to universities to clean their reputation and
evade taxes. The university enables the rich to create an illusion of
respectability and defend their wealth. This is a reciprocal bond,
where one supports the other.
Universities use capital to acquire resources and
hire people, reproducing and aggravating the injustices that fester
in the globalised world. Elite universities in the global north
attract qualified students and professors from the global south.
Colonialism plays out in research collaboration, academic services,
and knowledge dissemination. Elite universities foster colonial
relations that have existed since the dawn of capitalism. Scientific
innovations, produced by elite universities at the expense of the
global south, serve the rich and powerful of this world. This
exchange exploits the poor and perpetuates global inequality.
Higher education institutions in the global south
cannot be on par with western elite universities because they do not
have the funding or resources to offer commensurate remuneration or
research conditions. The reason behind this discrepancy is
capitalism: elite institutions extract and exploit human and material
resources for the indulgence of the privileged few. Academic
excellence and meritocracy are a sham.
The global elites enjoy abundance as the rest face
austerity. Education is not exempt from this logic. The main cause of
inequality in university rankings is the power of capital.
Humans produce more free knowledge and engage in
creative activities far beyond university education. Academic
recognition of a handful of scholars among seven billion people is a
mockery of the idea of open knowledge. Very few can make it to
the top of academe, but everyone is already part of humanity and
their individual and collective efforts have a much greater impact on
knowledge and education than those of a small band of scholars within
the exclusive ambit of academia.
Online technology has made the sharing of insights
and the learning of new things more accessible and egalitarian. It
has engaged millions of people, demonstrating that you do not have to
go to university to learn or exchange ideas. Skills, knowledge, and
creativity are not the preserve of formal education. There are now
new opportunities being opened for disseminating knowledge and
developing original views. One caveat here is that the online tools
that have challenged the exclusive role of academics are
unaccountable to the public as they belong to profit-driven
corporations. Social networks and new media have loosened the
chokehold of pretentious experts, but they might serve as oppressive
implements in the hands of their owners.
Knowledge should be free. The limits imposed by
the university will eventually give way to open and horizontal
learning relationships, which will help us dismantle the current
order and build a harmonious society.
A fair and democratic university is a
contradiction in terms. The university is a model of subversion that
forces students and professors to play by the rules and pledge blind
allegiance to the powers that be. Since the game is rigged, many
people refuse to believe the promise of higher education.
Society will benefit from doing away with the
shackles and blinders of academia. In the Anarchist struggle for
freedom and equality, the university is not an ally, but one of the
numerous reasons to overthrow the system. ■
Pavlo Shopin is a research fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in the English Department at the University of Freiburg. He comes from Luhansk, Ukraine.