If you find yourself, like me, continuously pondering over the structure of our highly capitalised social and economical system and its inevitable fates, then you must be, like myself again, trying to configure the ways we are equipped to handle, or more accurately, respond to the course in which future events will unfold.
As we are well aware of, the army of graduates entering the professional workforce has grown to utter overpopulation, with government and the general world consensus addressing the importance of higher education for all, which is of course, a great development in terms of education for the masses. This has also produced a whole new array of problems, including the monopolisation of education (in terms of tuition as well as acceptance policies) for the social and professional validation it provides for its graduates. On the other hand however, those who do not hold a university degree face an even bigger challenge in their entrance to the work industry.
To put it simply, you better get a university degree if you want the slightest chance of becoming eligible for the work force, but even if you do have one, you might still not be eligible either way.
Sure there is the counter argument that will bring forward an entire movement of the DIY freelance generation, which has popped up in recent years - especially with online platforms becoming legitimate income sources in their own right and independent businesses ‘flourishing’ - but at a closer glance, is that a truly sustainable structure? And more importantly, can any individual fit within this work for yourself, develop your own project/company/website ideology?
Regardless of its sociological and perhaps psychological problematics, the ‘do it’ yourself movement was able to penetrate the established structure of the professional market quite profoundly, and so, couldn’t the same be applied to education?
No doubt those standing on the right, more conservative side would argue that education can not simply be taught by anyone, anywhere. Their argument would be that an entire pedagogic system has been built on centuries of thinkers and academics to justify this precise notion and with that to produce a certain type of post-graduate individual - individuals equipped with carefully constructed knowledge and tools with which they can be ‘trusted’ by the outside world. But wasn’t the same said about the ‘freelance generation’.. And look where that stands today.
The question is whether or not one would trust an architect with a title obtained in ‘just anywhere’ to build your house, or a doctor or a surgeon or a lawyer. This is all about a perspective of gains and losses. There is a entire field of ‘alternative’ medicine with professionals who are not traditionally regulated and that market thrives. Why is it? Maybe here comes the placebo effect: the willingness to believe in something and at the end, if it does not cure you it might not kill you either, well at least in the most of the cases.
Instead of entering a never ending loop of rhetoric pondering, much similar to this very introduction, London based Antiuniversity Now has transformed the subject in question into a collaborative and more importantly, an educational experiment. Following in the footsteps of the infamous Antiuniversity of 1968, this contemporary adaptation will physicalise in an extensive educational programme across the UK, expanding over a long weekend this June 2016.
Their aim and ethos are transparent and simple: “to challenge academic and class hierarchy through an open invitation to teach and learn any subject, in any form, anywhere.”
Antiuniversity Now can be seen as more than an anti-institutionalised education project. In a recent interview with Screen Shot, Alex Brown, one of three co-founders of the project said that “it has a lot to do with attitudes to where someone learns and how they approach the experience of learning. We have events happening that universities couldn't even dream of, held in public spaces like cafés, parks, pubs, galleries; it might sound clichéd but learning is everywhere and no-one has a monopoly on knowledge and how to use it”. It seems that more than free education, Antiuniversity Now stands behind a demand, an ideal moreover, to rethink the way we approach the reimagining of higher educational standards. “I've seen the way that this can have a direct impact on those who never would have dreamed of running their own event and the freedom that it allows them in doing so; it's a space for experimentation, to try new things out.” Alex continues.
As a person of a somewhat ‘socially aware and open-minded’ background, I’d like to think this as a concept onto which I would jump on board with utter excitement and very little criticality, but to my own surprise even, I found the questions on the technicalities, the ethos and the quality of knowledge exchange taking over my rational/irrational sensitivity.
If anyone can teach anything, and most importantly under the same overarching umbrella, then where and how does a monitoring of the teaching quality and accuracy come in.. How can we be sure we are not being taught inaccurate facts, warped histories, biased positions? Well, can such purity of thought exist in even the most prestigious of institutions? Alex argues that this precise quest is a crucial axis in the shift of educational hierarchy.
“This means that we get event hosts from a wide range of backgrounds and different experiences of teaching, from experienced lecturers to people who have never done any in their life but hold great enthusiasm for their topics. The way that our principle of non-hierarchical learning plays out in sessions means that you don't need to be an expert at all, you need to be able to introduce a topic and then steer a discussion, the sharing of knowledge between participants can be a powerful thing without looking up to an expert.”
I often find myself in a tricky void between the ways in which my worldview has been configured, and the cynical, brutal reality of today’s social and political status quo. And with that a doubt, a fear rather, that this might just be an idealistic admiration of a time’s past: of the long lost years when students took to the streets and where real social revolutions were an imaginable political force. Reminding Alex that perhaps the infamous accelerate theory may simply be our best (and easiest) solution. Let’s just ride these waves of our neo-liberalist storm, until it ceases, instead of trying to tame it or sale its wind in other directions. Alex reassures me once more, saying that “you have to try to live your future society in the present, academics might call this prefigurativism, we might call it direct action. I've come around to the accelerationist way of thinking, neoliberalism is unsustainable in every facet, yet at the same time as being absolutely impenetrable, it only seems a matter of time before it’s over.”
Antiuniversity Now is what we all talk about whilst sitting around a dinner table complaining about student debts. It is what we wished some of our teachers were like when first imagining the experience of higher education. It is like Richard Linklater’s 1991 film Slacker, where the camera humbly follows people as they bump into each other at random, and continues with the next heroine who happens to fall into frame - an idea we all had once thought of - ingenious in its own simplicity yet demanding a certain element of agency and to be precisely placed on the historical timeline for its final execution.
The dark beauty of politics (in countries we accept as democracies) is that it never feels as though it directly affects us, the individuals living under its guise. Instead it creeps into the lives of its societies in a way so slow, so adjustable in a sense, that the urgency with which we once so desperately demanded the security and justice that come from democracy and politics itself, has been lost. We find ourselves in an age where campaigns exist to encourage the public to vote again, where street protests are regarded as ideals of the young and naive, and where the sense of ownership of one’s own political discussions is close to none.
Antiuniversity Now is a physical, tangible representation of the continuous dialogues surrounding us, a reminder of the urgency that still exists and with that, an open invitation to education that is non-hierarchical and free, for all. And that’s that.
Words by Shira Jeczmien