OPINION: Getting the agenda right for higher education in Macau

Macau Business | September 2022

Keith Morrison – Author and educationist

Here we are, at the start of a new academic year in Macau’s higher education (HE). What will students learn? What kind of people are the institutions turning out? For example, look at the thousands of students studying business and technology in Macau, the big recruiters in HE.

Take this article from a business journal. Here, MBA students adopted an uncritical acceptance of solely a market, profit-driven mentality. There was a culture of getting the degree and a job, rather than society-oriented, whole-person development. The students and their teachers ignored local and social needs, and only valued self-interested conformity to the neoliberal credo and to being entrepreneurial, self-interested, competition-thirsty individuals in a dog-eat-dog market. High-paying jobs, the creation of saleable graduates, global mobility, and marketability were emphasised. Students who did not conform to this view were marginalised, labelled as abnormal, and faced fines and exclusion. Neoliberal beliefs defined what was normal and abnormal. The class-stratified society and socio-economic inequities were reinforced and perpetuated. What were the students learning? Well, many things: self-interest, greed, acquisitiveness, materialism, and exploitation; HE for utility, economic purposes, and employment; the promotion of consumerism, marketisation, and the commodification of everything; the benefits of competition in a privatised market economy of public goods; personal investment in individualism and knowledge capital; people’s value as measured in individual performance, with esteem measured by salary. People became economic units; things, not people.

Or take information technology. A recent analysis of e-technology for learning, found that, of 27 of its putative claimed benefits and 30 claimed dangers, almost all of them concerned the individual. There was almost total silence on technology for society, community, social justice, values, ethics, equality, and societal and community issues and development.

What do we see here? Business courses and information technology courses were almost silent on what kind of society, values, ethics, morals and people we should have, what matters in humans and societies. There was almost no mention of social service, community solidarity, a humanity-oriented society, key values for society, social systems, ethics, morals, and what kind of humans we want and need.

We live in a time when the social good, the public good, social justice, (re)distributive justice, social identity and recognition, solidarity, human rights, ethics, morals, values, care, and the collective good, are being swallowed up, consumed, by individualism within a neoliberal, market mentality. HE is much richer than these. As Newman put it: the idea of a university is to provide more than that which has utility value: it is to develop ‘a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes’. Similarly, as the English philosopher John Stuart Mill commented (if perhaps too exclusively): a university ‘is not a place of professional education. Universities are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men [sic] for some special mode of gaining their livelihood. Their object is not to make skilful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings’. HE is an agent for societal emancipation, community development, human rights, debate, disputation, critique, ethics, morals, values, and the promotion of social justice, recognition, identity, and service. HE should take a stand on its meanings, purposes, and crucial role in educating students to participate in an inclusive society, promoting social justice and humanity.

As we start the new academic year in Macau’s HE, ask yourselves: how are the teachers and students ensuring that what is taught and learned promotes sustainable humanity, society, thinking people, social justice, equality, human rights, critical thinking, agency, debate, and the public, collective, egalitarian good life for all? What kind of society are they trying to create, that makes it worth living in it? How are they improving the lot of the poor, the suppressed, the exploited, the voiceless, the marginalised, the despairing, and the unrepresented? What is HE, a major player in society, doing to address these? HE has a duty of care and responsibility here, which is more precious than simply being about getting a job. Is Macau’s HE fulfilling these?