Elitism is not innovation
Like a few of you I exercised my eye rolling technique at this Guardian feature on Minerva, breathlessly titled: “The future of education or just hype? The rise of Minerva, the world’s most selective university“. I’m not going to talk about their model (it looks ok, but isn’t nearly as innovative as they think), but rather the futility of any model that is based in exclusivity. The article states that:
This year Minerva received 25,000 applications from 180 countries for undergraduate entry in 2020 and admitted just 2% of them, making it the most selective degree programme in the developed world.
This is portrayed as good thing. But it effectively means any outcomes of their approach are invalid and inapplicable to a wider context. Even if their pedagogy is sound, we can’t extract any meaning from it that isn’t bound up in the elitism. If you are a student allowed on to ‘the most selective degree programme in the world’, then you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself. A strong confirmation bias is going to kick in that this really is the best degree in the world. Added to that they will have selected students who are already really good at studying. Of course they’ll be successful. And finally, as my colleague Mark Fenton-O’Creevy suggested in this tweet, they’ll network with successful people and get good jobs:
Elite business model: invest in building research reputation to hit top of rankings; use perceived elite status to select the brightest and wealthiest; dont worry about good teaching because they have the advantages to learn something anyway and the connections to get good jobs.— Mark Fenton-O'Creevy (@mocreevy) July 30, 2020
What this means is that you could be teaching them via the medium of tapioca and it will still be a successful programme on many measures. That doesn’t mean tapioca based pedagogy is a model that should be widely adopted.
But these types of programmes always get reported and then there is pressure on colleges and unis to learn from them. I know that you know this, but I’ll state it plainly for those who are swayed by such things: Any approach that is grounded in exclusivity and high selectivity is by its nature, meaningless to a wider context.
I’d also suggest it’s just really boring and easy – you can always succeed with these types of approaches and investment. Any innovation in education needs to be grounded in equitable access and low resource – that’s when you really have to get creative.