Exploitation and Surplus Value in Academia

After two years of Covid-19 pandemic requiring academic staff to undertake countless hours of unpaid overtime, I’m sure all my colleagues at Maynooth University, especially those whose workloads went through the roof during this time, will be as delighted as I am to learn that the University made a surplus of €13.2 million last year.

I’m reminded of a post I did a while ago about why academic publishing is so profitable. The argument I presented based on Marx’s theory of exploitation which holds not only for capitalist societies but for all class-based societies (including, e.g., feudal societies). In Das Kapital Marx argued that

…living labour at an adequate level of productivity is able to create and conserve more value than it costs the employer to buy; which is exactly the economic reason why the employer buys it, i.e. to preserve and augment the value of the capital at his command. Thus, the surplus-labour is unpaid labour appropriated by employers in the form of work-time and outputs.

The current situation certainly seems like exploitation to me, though it’s not only the staff but also the students who are being taken for a ride.

In a couple of weeks I am supposed to spend yet another Saturday (unpaid) delivering an open-day talk at which I attempt to persuade students to come to Maynooth to study Theoretical Physics. I probably won’t mention that we haven’t got enough staff to teach them effectively, we haven’t had sufficient investment to offer decent levels of teaching infrastructure (e.g. no lecture capture facilities), and they probably won’t be able to find anywhere to live near campus so won’t be able to attend lectures without lengthy commutes. I don’t suppose prospective students care about those things anyway. But I’m sure they’ll be delighted to hear about the size of the University’s surplus….

…I bet that will make them feel really good about coming to Maynooth!

3 Responses to “Exploitation and Surplus Value in Academia”

  1. […] this anniversary which unfortunately I was unable to attend because of pressure of work. With a €13.2 million surplus to spend on it, the party was probably very good, but I know I’m not alone among my […]

  2. […] I note that the new scheme costs €100M and will fund 400 PhD students. Maynooth University ran up a surplus of €13.2M during the first year of the pandemic. This is enough to fund about 50 PhD studentships with a 28K […]

  3. […] also argue that institutions don’t care. Maynooth University ran up a surplus of €13.2M during the first year of the pandemic largely by exploiting unpaid overtime by lecturers and tutors, the latter predominantly PhD […]

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