“a piece of knowledge, unlike a piece of physical property, can be shared by large groups of people without making anybody poorer.” — Aaron Swartz
the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship.
In a few months, I will [depending on life at the moment] be what they call a ‘graduate’. If I ever do something great, Brunel might snatch me up and say ‘Brunel alumni Ada *insert my future great feat*. But what’s important is the eventual loss of the safety of an academic institution. No more JSTOR articles with a simple login. No more ‘full version available online’, it’s straight snippets from google books, quotes from Goodreads and the ‘Look inside!’ option on amazon. It’s back to sitting in bookstores because your local library does not have the resources to provide you with the information you need. The once embracing arms of an academic environment retreat into shadows of exclusivity.
When I thought to write on this, Aaron Swartz flew to mind almost immediately. I’m sure he’s not without his flaws, but for the purpose of this post, he seems pretty relevant and pretty interesting. From what I’ve read, he was a modern-day cyber Robin Hood, sweeping in to liberate the people with downloaded academic articles giving the knowledge and insight people deserve(d). Bigger crimes have been committed, but heyo.
The Reddin Survey charts UK university tuition fees from 2007 till date. International fees for foundation courses to MBAs have steadily grown in range from £5,000 to £40,000. Similarly, for home students, fees that once started at a little over £1,000 now go up to £30,000. This all points to what we already know though, the cost of resources goes beyond a pretty penny because academia operates on exclusivity and power. And I guess you could say iTs NoT tHaT dEeP but I think it is.
That’s why in 2020, less than 1% of university lecturers in the UK are Black.
See people talk about ‘the real-world’, how life happens or really begins after university (assuming you attend) and dismissal and trivialisation aside, cool, I get it. But coping with the real world then, should include access to tools that will help you in the real world, no? No seems to be right.
To gain the high-level of resources available, to interact more closely with knowledge facilities and research specialists, to learn beyond the hallowed annals of educational institutions, you need to have access. But all the networking opportunities and public lectures and internet searches cannot change the irrefutable fact that attaining [more] knowledge, costs money. And yeah I get it, everything costs money but as Swartz said, it shouldn’t have to come at the constant detriment of your pocket.
between 2018–2019, the number of Black lecturers in senior positions fell from 5 to 0
When we look at the statistics of academic forces from schoolteachers through to university lecturers, you’ll notice an overwhelmingly white presence. And by the time we reach higher education, the positions of minorities in these spaces gradually decrease, those present in senior positions eventually fade into nothingness. That’s why between 2018–2019, the number of Black lecturers in senior positions fell from 5 to 0, while 475 of 535 senior positions were held by white people. That’s why in 2020, less than 1% of university lecturers in the UK are Black. And so, when we talk about accessible academic materials, those written by Black and minority people are harder to come by and struggle to reach the same level of reverence and accreditation than their white counterparts.
They say history is doomed to repeat itself and well, duh, because life is lived in cycles. And cycles, whilst seen as a natural order, can also change and adapt to something new. Aaron Swartz understood the impact of hidden knowledge hence why he fought so hard to make it accessible. Withheld knowledge is a form of oppression which contributes to keeping these systems alive against Black and other ethnic minorities. It’s why in 2019, a sixth form student interviewing me thought it appropriate to use ‘Black’ and ‘coloured’ as interchangeable terms. A future with accessible academia involves honest practices that make the academic environment suitable for Black and minority individuals interested in trying to change the landscape. It also means checking why access for all is so dangerous a concept to navigate that it involves the weight of the full force of the law to punish liberating knowledge.