Established Professor Claims ‘Higher Education In The UK Is Morally Bankrupt’

After living in England for 25 years, Ulf Schmidt is leaving the UK to return to his hometown in Germany for a better educational experience for himself and students.

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Ulf Schmidt has been living and working in the UK for the past 25 years, but after seeing how the educational system in the country is responding to the coronavirus pandemic in relation to keeping students/staff safe, he’s ready to leave. Schmidt has been living in Kent, England for a majority of his life, and in a recent op-ed piece that he wrote for The Guardian, he explains how England has always felt like more of a home to him than Germany, his birthplace, ever did. 

Now, Schmidt claims England “no longer feels like home” and after the Brexit vote of 2016, he knew he would be making a move at one point or another. Recently, he was offered a professorship position at Hamburg University in Germany, which became the final push he needed to finally pack up his family and leave. Schmidt has a seven-year-old son who was born and raised in England and British culture, and while he’s nervous about uprooting his son’s entire life, Schmidt is confident in his family’s ability to adapt, just like he’ll be doing after over two decades in the same place. 

Initially, he described having a desire to move to England because of its “impassioned anti-intellectualism that seeks simple answers and negated context and complexity.” Over time, however, he saw how the educational sector of the UK became completely commercialized and used as a tool for political gain from those in power. The individuals who have been deciding on how the system should work began doing it with their own personal agendas in mind, and gave advantages to those of high socioeconomic status’; and the pandemic has exposed all of it.

“People should not be judged by their wealth, but by merit. A university sector such as the one we [the UK] have now, one that’s dependent on those who can afford to pay, is doomed.”

Schmidt believes that the education system can’t be fixed unless politicians and university leaders work together and acknowledge the “commodification and commercialization of knowledge” that the educational system has created in England. Here in America, student’s can relate to the struggle of having wealth and class prioritized over actual education. There are so many parts of the world where “young people are told they’re ‘consumers’ in a shop where they can choose what and when to learn.” 

Education should not be viewed as a service to consume, but instead a fundamental human right that all should be granted access to, according to Schmidt. He mentioned how the rise of students suffering from mental health issues “speaks volumes” to what the system actually prioritizes in regards to education. The fact that Britain’s higher education sector was once considered the “envy of the world” also goes to show how much it’s crumbling now based on actual student and professor experiences.  

Specifically, Schmidt discussed how scholars working in English literature, creative writing, the arts, history, philosophy, and other cultural categories were once praised as the role models of what a professor should be, but now, the system has not only drained those departments of their funds, but of their morality as well. Since the beginning of the pandemic more than 10,000 scholars left their university positions in Britain, and countries such as Germany, are welcoming them all with open arms. 

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“Scholars and their families are voting with their feet. Britain is experiencing a significant ‘brain drain’. Life is too short to wait until the country has come to its senses is what most Europeans – and many British academics – think.”

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When Schmidt says “voting with their feet” he’s of course referring to the physical act of moving countries to be a part of an educational system that values students and professors as human beings, instead of just numbers. He claims that countries such as Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, and many others throughout Europe are seeing what’s occurring to education in Britain, and taking advantage of the tens of thousands of established scholars now looking for new work. 

Schmidt claims he already knows of one other senior academic working from Britain who also accepted a German professorship position. Many of his other colleagues have been applying for grants in order to increase their chances of receiving international work opportunities. This change will become clear in the coming years for Britain when new prospective students start looking in countries other than the UK for their education. 

“Thousands of doctoral students will no longer flock to Britain but move instead to where they can find the best intellectual climate, the best infrastructure, and career prospects. Britain’s attractiveness is waning.” 

Schmidt then recalled a personal experience of his wife finally being granted British citizenship, and his son breaking down in tears at the news after months of fear that his mother would be “deported” from the UK; this was after ministers claimed that European citizens may be at risk of deportation. At that point, however, Schmidt realized Britain was no longer the open and welcoming society it always claimed to be; “it changed our sense of belonging.”

Now, his family will be making the big move to Germany along with thousands of other professors looking to start fresh when the pandemic comes to an eventual end.