Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Bologna, Education and the ultimate Academia Ponzi pyramid scheme

Are you familiar with the 10 Nastiest Ponzi Schemes ever produced? Brought to us by Drea Knufken in a short summarised anecdotal article [1], con-men (and a woman!!) are revisited. From Bernard Madoff's exposure of the weaknesses of global economy protocols to Mexican resort owner Michael Eugene Kelly making use of the worn out timesharing fallacies, the world has given us the worst nature of us humans by revealing the vile side of ... people. Not wolves, because I know wolves and they are pretty honest, they bite if they feel threatened, they kill if they're starving. As for people like:

1880 - Sarah Howe with the "Ladies Deposit"

1920s - Charles Ponzi offering his name to a legacy of con-men 

1990 - The Albanian mid-1990's government pyramid schemes

1990s - Gerald Payne and the church worshipers' investments

2000s - The Haitian government-backed cooperatives

2000 - Reed Slatkin cheating rich Hollywood stars

2000s - Michael Eugene Kelly and yet again the point-blank stealing from retired people

2000s - Bernard Madoff with what we've all seen recently (the pyramid still crumbling as we speak)

it is all a very intricate story!

Pyramid schemes aren't a recent invention, they have history and they're here to stay. Matter of fact they just improve on their ancestors' strategies and deceit from their mistakes. But they are a life form ever more intricate and systemic, socially and almost biologically speaking. They will cuddle you, entice you, attract you, use of deplorable scoff verborrhea that you will interpret as of kind and understanding nature, and then they will bite you, slave you and chew you in unprecedented ways.

The requisites for a certain strategy to be recognised as a pyramid scheme are fairly simple:

- it is structured like a pyramid where the top receives and the bottom pays,
- typically starts with an initial recruiter on top at the apex,
- a serial recruiting process generates ever more recruiters underneath each other,
- each recruiter pays a fee whilst profiting only from the subsequently found recruiters.

The signing of the Bologna Declaration in 1999 triggered numerous gaps in the European educational systems spread through our European 'community'. Helmut de Ruder wrote a very important analytical essay on the inconsistencies and problems associated to the Bologna Process [2], sold by European Union as a story of success when it is more of a snake's lard scheme than anything, really. Don't take me wrong, the premise is great, beautiful, valuable, but the outcome is fragmented and inconsequent; especially in the already crumbling academic universe. But you're asking yourself, where is this guy trying to go with this crazy shift???

Behold your sense of surprise for in 2010 Sarah Kendzior exposed the fact that precarious academia is promoting less opportunities for their graduates and postgraduates. In her article "The closing of American Academia" that can be taken as a photocopy of the situation in Europe without any inch of doubt, she sees the university system as a "classic Ponzi scheme aided and abetted by federal policy". Eric Garland writes that "It enriches the people at the top and depends on fresh suckers coming in at the bottom with dreams of  a great return on investment. Compensation of top administrators has skyrocketed, routinely reaching total packages in the millions for the "talented" bureaucrats who can keep alumni money flowing and attracting new marks, er, students to sign on to the debt that pays for ever-increasing tuition" [3]. This grinding machine effect is a Ponzi, either derived from considered financial strategy or just a consequence of irresponsible decision-making from politicians, the same ones who signed the Bologna Declaration.

Anthony DiMaggio recently sees in his article entitled "Academic Fraud and the Ponzi Scheme of 'Higher Learning'" that the exact same principle is directly derived from economical principles, not social ones. He says "I've never argued that a college education is without value. Rather, the main problem today is the declining value of that education for the cost incurred and the lack of quality that is now endemic in the typical  undergraduate experience". He recognises the pyramid when saying "The schools at the top continue to compete for elite students, by appealing to [...] the 'climbing' wall phenomenon. Non-elite colleges and universities, fighting with each other for a dwindling number of state tax dollars amidst huge increases in tuition costs, due to declining state funding and the obsession with amenities-based education".

DiMaggio knows that this strategy has forced teachers to actually abandon teaching as their main role and lay hands on grant-seeking as their primary job. Therefore, we are no longer taught the scientific elements but transferred the research application forms, "Teaching is often seen as a 'necessary evil' to be 'endured' by faculty who would rather be researching if they had their choice. The emphasis in modern higher education hiring and graduate training is research, research, research. Many hiring committees simply assume (sight unseen) that applicants will know how to teach coming into the job, and focus on applicants' research resumes when making their final hiring decision... There is no way that a teacher  at the average school requiring professors offer a three or four course load power semester can effectively deliver a quality educational experience to students, while also managing such a massive research load".

My friends, this neoliberalism is forcing all EU countries to follow the criminal recipe of producing graduates and postgraduates that don't really understand the ins and outs of their scientific area just because they have no time and opportunity to make sense of the speed of light transferring of knowledge. This self-indulgence sold to students where fun and hedonism come first and actually knowing anything is totally secondary, is criminal and partially responsible for the mass production of terrible research projects and even worse job opportunities, "When the next economic bubble bursts, the current economic model governing higher education will begin to crumble", he wisely states.

Think of the number of graduates produced by 3 years long-courses. Think of the lacunas in their knowledge, in theoretical but most of all in practical terms. These people will flood the DDTPs, MRes, MScs, PhDs and the like. Time is a constraint when keeping the grinding machine in a sustainable mode and it is counter-productive as these young researchers will be forced by circumstances to run against the clock and produce loads of data. Again, knowledge will be secondary. And this is ever more present when there are Public and Private Partnerships involved. At some point you start having mountains of PhDs with only two possible gateways, quit research or end up doing postdoc... "an insanity of gigantic problems" as someone once said. "Not only the postdoc is burying his career coffin in sand, it propagates the bad idea that postdoc is a career path... Postdocs will also look for 'permanent positions' given that jobs are non-existent in academia, how is this fool's hope to help anyone?".

The synergies between Industry and Academia are rotten, flaccid and incongruent. The Bologna Accords just made everything worse because no country really wants to single handedly abandon the wagon. Mass production of disposable intelligent talented people who will end up being frustrated disposable intelligent talented people is happening. And so it is the rotting, as part of the excretion purge typical of the pyramid scheme exertion when things go bad. And this has everything to go real bad.

What surprises me the most is that NO ONE, I SAY NO ONE FROM THE TOP APEX actually talks about it. Man, they are the ones most interested in making the bottom happy and stable. Don't they know the first thing about the architecture of a pyramid? Are they already a produce of the ignorance they are perpetrating with this Ponzi Scheme?

To conclude, I read somewhere on the Internet about the bottom line: "It is easy to see how a pyramid scheme can work, but participating in one (regardless of the form in which it is presented) involves deception and fraud because not everyone will receive the [value] that is promised in return. As with any other investment plan you consider entering, it is important to ask the right questions".

[1] The 10 nastiest Ponzi schemes ever, Business Pundit, [], last visited on the 22nd of April 2015, last updated on the 15th of December 2008.

[2] Rudder, H. (2010). "Mission accomplished? Which mission? The 'Bologna Process' - a view from Germany." Higher Education Review, 43(1), pp. 3-20.

[3] Sarah Kendzior exposes the Ponzi scheme of academic jobs, Eric Garland, [], last visited on the 22nd of April 2015, last updated on the 

Images kindly taken from the blog devicerandom, [].

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