Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Further to previous discussions of the neoliberal university...

This is a very dodgy enterprise. It is a limited company established by four local academic institutions, all of which (like almost all Canadian universities) are in the public sector. Its goal seems to be to profit from the local real estate market and what it itself calls "the City’s rapidly growing high-technology precinct". Yet it is masquerading as itself an educational institution, wrapped up in visions of high-tech cyber-utopia and "digital villages" and the like. This is no doubt to the advantage of its sponsors and investors, both public and corporate. The gaming industry (et al.) gains prestige (as well as human capital) from its association with higher education; the university hopes to rake in the cash (not that it necessarily will) while spouting the requisite terms of art about cutting edge interdisciplinary research.

The gall of it, as far as I can see, is that its corporate name, Great Northern Way Campus Ltd, is easily enough shortened to "Great Northern Way Campus" which on first sight (I was fooled for a long time) seems to imply that it is indeed the campus of some other educational institutional, i.e. an integral part of that institution. In no way is this the case.

No wonder it calls itself "a unique, collaborative university campus environment". What's "unique" is that in fact it is not a university, nor is it a campus, however much it may provide an environment. This is the language of set-dressing and interior furnishings. "Not alchemy, but close," they say. No, it's just the usual sleight of hand of corporate shenanigans, attempts to ensure rapid conversion of cultural into financial capital, and shed-loads of PR spin.

Of course, there's nothing too "unique" about this... the Great Northern Way Campus Ltd is a commercial venture like any other, simply one that has managed to wangle an awful lot of money out of public funds for its business ventures (a least $40.5 million, it seems), not to mention the fact of benefiting from an initial real estate donation that one hopes was originally destined for educational purposes. (OK, let's be real, it was a tax write-off or similar, no doubt.)

Anyhow, I ran into all this by accident. Looking for examples to show my students as to how to edit wikipedia, I discovered that the article on this firm was plagiarized from the place's own website. I blanked the page (note at this point I mistakenly thought that this was a university campus). But the deleted text was shortly replaced in similarly glowing terms, if now no longer word-for-word copied from other online promotional materials, but more cunningly crafted, by a wikipedian who apparently is paid by GNWC Ltd to write encyclopedia articles about them, sometimes in the name of Gnwc, at other times anonymously.

Ah, the university of excellence!

Perhaps the only redeeming feature is that university bureaucrats still fortunately make such poor technocrats that they managed to lose c. $1.4 million a year over the first four years since the initial donation. This at the same time as the city was undergoing rampant property inflation! Anyhow, no wonder that despite all the investment, both public and private, those few students enrolled at the "Campus" (21 to date) still have to pay, and at rates far above those paid by their colleagues who are studying in honest-to-goodness Canadian universities.

And what's with the transparent people?

No comments: