Selling a manufactured illusion

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It has emerged that the University has spent over £35,000 on Apple technology and accessories for its staff. Included in this total were iPads and iPhones.

The Psychology Department is now the proud owner of eight iPads. However, they saw fit to buy 10 iPad covers in a range of suitably cheerful colours and styles, including top-of-the-range leather covers, at £49.17 a pop.

The grand total of this Apple-philic spending spree came to £5,114.19, which is more than double what the Computer Sciences Department spent on Apple goods over the same period. The Department of Social Work and Social Policy managed to spend just under two grand on a similar range of equipment. They also saw fit to personalise their iPads – having them engraved with the department’s name – although the iPad covers render this slightly pointless, to say the least.

A Luddite through and through, there was always going to be a part of me that would oppose such expenditure.

The University has partially defended the purchases on ecological “paper saving” grounds. I’m not sure exactly how much paper HYMS (Hull York Medical School) will save with the addition of a single iPad. It’s lone purchase betrays the superficiality and needless expenditure of the entire operation.

How exactly the purchase of leather cases is necessary to our education and the research that is carried out across the University remains unclear. Ranging from between £332 and the most expensive £509 iPad, I fail to see what the department is going to be able to achieve with these pieces of technology that is worth the money, beyond perhaps attempting to contribute to the image that the University is not continuing on an ever downwards spiral through the league tables. Wave a shiny new toy over here, distract from increasingly low standards and student apathy over there.

Most importantly we need to ask what this technology can really bring to the University, it’s teaching, and the first-class research conducted. Without playing up to the old-fashioned professor stereotype, how many of the researchers and professors, for whom this technology was bought, will know how to take full advantage of all this innovation can offer? If these iPads become nothing more than a constructed and artificial background to research, present only for their “shiny” factor (and after a few years not even fulfilling that) then we need to act to prevent further squandering of University funding. Until there is a clear need for such purchases no amount of “paper saving” muttering by the University should deter our reservations.

We can hope the purchase of such technology was ultimately for the benefit of those researchers and students already present, and not yet another example of the commercialisation of our education into a shiny manufactured façade, which will soon be termed obsolete – not through lack of technology, but through lack of learning.

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