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Crowdfunded degrees: the perfect solution for Generation Sell Yourself

posted Jul 29, 2014, 11:15 PM by Siamak Ebarhimi

Crowdfunded degrees mean further education could soon become the preserve of those who are loudly able to sell themselves rather than the quietly academic, writes Theo Merz

Say you were offered a place on the Master’s course of your dreams, but couldn’t afford the £26,000 course costs. From there, you would have a choice: delay your studies for years and work to scrape the money together, or find a group of willing people to donate, which would allow you to start the Master’s immediately.CrowdFunding advertizing

It was a choice outlined for us yesterday by Emily-Rose Eastop, the Oxford graduate who was accused of being “a posh brat” after setting up a crowdfunding campaign to cover her fees for an MA (again at Oxford) in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology. “It’s no secret that the public will crowdfund all manner of projects and campaigns,” she wrote. “If the online community is prepared to fund a potato salad, or a pizza museum, then why not a Master's degree?

“I’ve accepted [donors’] assistance gratefully, in exchange for a year-long commitment of making it worth their while. I will be communicating everything I learn during the course of my Master’s - so they can learn it, too. Those people who don’t find my motivation compelling enough? They’re not the kind of people I’m expecting to get involved in the first place.”

The human sciences graduate has so far won enough people round to raise £16,000 towards her fees, and her article yesterday seemed to convince readers, with many of them praising her initiative in below-the-line comments. She wasn’t hurting anyone; you would have done the same in her situation. It’s a compelling case and almost enough to melt the hearts of those whose instinctive reaction to requests via websites like GoFundMe is to tell the requestee to GoF---Themselves.CrowdFunding marketing

YouTube Video

So - good on Eastop. If her enthusiastic appeal video is anything to go by, she’ll throw herself into her studies when she arrives at Wadham College in October. She’s done whatever it takes to fulfil her dreams, which naturally appeals to a generation raised on the X-Factor.Kickstarter Marketing

But in praising her initiative and donating to her campaign, we’re not just helping one young woman achieve her ambition. We’re making an implicit statement about the way further education should be funded: that if you’ve got the personality to sell yourself and carry off a slick YouTube video, you are somehow worthy of a place on a Master’s course. Meanwhile, those who are equally gifted but more quietly academic - less obviously saleable - will have to delay their studies or give up on them all together.

The photogenic and confident leapfrog the shy even in academia, an area where the latter might otherwise be allowed to thrive. (Eastop is photogenic, as the image above demonstrates - and if we’re comfortable with using what we have to get what we want, it shouldn't be a problem pointing this out.) Over on another crowdfunding site, the less obviously media-friendly Nick Gaven has raised £700 towards a Master’s at Oxford, a fraction of what Eastop has managed.

And away from crowdfunding sites altogether, hundreds of would-be students are turning down their places either because they lack a strong enough “personal brand” to fuel a viral campaign or because they object to what they see as “e-begging”.Indiegogo Marketing

I called PR man and branding expert Mark Borkowski to talk about this trend towards crowdfunding in education, expecting him to tell me to ditch these romantic notions about academia and accept that personal branding is now key in all areas of our life. But even Borkowski, who has made a living out of packaging people into saleable units, regrets how far this culture has now spread.

“It’s like Big Brother, as in Endemol rather than Orwell” he said. “People who can make a good video and play the system will do well, but I feel sad that the geeks and quiet academics will suffer. Personality plays a huge part in life, but not everyone can become a media brand. This is very troubling for the people who can’t, who aspire to a probably brilliant but quiet life in academia.”

We should thank websites GoFundMe for helping to ensure postgraduate studies are no longer the preserve of the rich (while noting that these crowdfunding sites are not charities; they take a cut of all donations made, making it more cost effective to go directly to potential donors if possible). It's now the rich and the saleable who get first dibs on Master's degrees. If only priority were given to the best.crowdfunding websites

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By David Khorram