Vittana–mutual aid or international corporatization of education?

from their website

They talk about empowering students, but it’s really just indebting them. Are these the same?


  1. Laura M

    Your website provides some great alternatives for those who choose not to attend college through the traditional routes, but I’m not sure what you gain by criticizing a model that works for others. Both can co-exist. And, this blog is negative about an organization that is providing loans to those who are deemed “unbankable” in developing countries, with a payback rate above 99%. If you had looked at the students on Vittana’s website, you’d discover that these loans provide the impoverished with an opportunity to complete their education and break the cycle of poverty. The loans are mostly below $800, yet the impact is great. In the U.S. we take for granted the access to student loans and our payback rate is far less. Vittana is doing something positive…why turn it into a negative?

    • deebax

      I think you’re definitely right Laura that there is something positive to this project, and that the post above didn’t get into the specifics of what Vittana offers. You make an excellent point, and what you say is what makes Vittana something worthy of our attention at all. I do think the question remains whether debt can be a form of mutual aid, particularly when it’s issued–in however small an amount–by citizens of a country like ours (that’s in the global north and has a particularly problematic history of intervention in South American countries) to citizens of other countries with particular histories, cultures, economies, and social structures. The word “developing” as it describes an entire country of people deserves scrutiny in this context, for instance. Not to mention the complex relationships between debt, globalization, education, and justice. These are radical questions for sure, and they’re meant to stir up controversy, which can feel negative; but asking those kinds of controversial questions, in my opinion anyway, is one of our goals.

    • Joe

      Laura raises some important points here, I think.

      I wonder if changing the frame of reference might help here. Laura quite rightly says “In the U.S. we take for granted the access to student loans and our payback rate is far less” – and so I can really see how, viewed from that perspective, it makes a lot of sense to feel that providing debt-based education to students in other countries is a good idea – something that empowers those students.

      But what if we were viewing the whole issue from any of the many countries around the world in which it is assumed that education is a right, not a privilege; and that it should therefore be free? Then Vittana’s project might start to seem less empowering: it might start to seem like an attempt to convince people that education should be acquired via debt, rather than by other means. This then leads to the question: what is the situation in those regions where Vittana operates? Are there perhaps forms of education there that are free, or movements that argue that education should be free? Maybe it would be more empowering to support those movements, rather than encouraging the spread of an American debt-based model, in implicit competition with them.

      Projects like Vittana are designed to help a number of individuals to escape poverty and climb the social ladder, which is obviously a really good thing. Cheers for that! But at the same time isn’t there a risk here that they may only be doing so by reinforcing the very inequalities that make that ladder necessary? By this I mean that, while Vittana helps individuals, it’s worth considering that it might actually be part of a larger effort through which whole societies are encouraged (even forced) to adopt a debt-based model of education, rather than adopting (or indeed simply continuing) models that would be much more empowering.

      I guess what we think about Vittana, and other debt-based education efforts of its kind, might depend on what we’re comparing them to. If we’re comparing Vittana to no education at all, then it starts to look pretty good; if we’re comparing it to forms of free (or rather, more accurately, communally provided or socially participatory) education, then it might start to look a bit less appealing. It might even start to look more like part of the problem than part of the solution, if you get me.

      I’d be so interested to hear how you feel about this, Laura! Just if you happen to notice this post (and the one above), and if you get a chance to respond.