Furthermore, few universities would be able to finance the stream of loans for long.
Even a strong university like Leeds would go from having debt equivalent to about 38% of its current annual income to well over 100% within three years.
University fees are a dead issue from the point of view of the major political parties. But the last year has seen the development of a new student protest movement that attempts to move beyond the question of fees to the broader logic of the Browne Report. Local campaigns to pay a living wage to support staff have merged with calls for flatter top-to-bottom wage ratios and a reshaped, democratic university administration involving students and academics as well as managers. It’s nothing to match the size and anger of 2010, but the movement possesses something like its reanimated spirit – together with the usual attachment of the British left to heroic defeat.
The main tactic has been to occupy a room in a part of the university dedicated to administration, post your demands, and wait to be kicked out – which happens quickly, and sometimes with violence. The police are willing defenders of the neoliberal university. Breaking up an occupation at the University of London in December last year, an officer punched a student in the face. Another fabricated a charge of assault against a friend of mine, which he only recently beat in court. Along with violence, there’s increasing surveillance. At least four people in Cambridge have been approached to provide information on student groups in the last two years. One reported being followed around a supermarket while out shopping with his daughter; another was threatened with prosecution if she told anyone else about the approach.
Messianic Trees wrote:"Two brains" strikes again:
Let universities underwrite student loans to reduce burden on taxpayer
A researcher at Imperial College London who was found dead in September had been told he was “struggling to fulfil the metrics” of a professorial post at the institution.
An email sent in March to Stefan Grimm, formerly professor of toxicology in the Faculty of Medicine at the university, who died on 25 September, outlines the details of his “informal review process”, which include bringing in an “attributable share” of £200,000 per year in research funding and being awarded at least one programme grant as principal investigator in following 12 months.
Professor Grimm was found dead in Northwood, Middlesex, in September, and an inquest was opened and adjourned at the West London District Coroner’s Court on 8 October.
The suicide of Stefan Grimm, who had been given a grant-raising target by his university, followed by the story of Warwick academics put under similar pressure (told that their positions were now indefinitely "at risk" so long as they failed to meet financial income targets, via fiercely competitive grant contests - the technique of delayed adjudication well understood by Kafka), gives a sense of how governance functions in the current climate. In my own field, Copenhagen Business School, traditionally viewed as an oasis of non-instrumentalised, social democratic, critical theorising about economy, recently announced that 80 academic jobs will go, without even any formal criteria for achieving this. And of course I write this only a few hours before the announcement of the next Research Excellence Framework results...
But rather than seek the pity of non-academics for the strains that we now live with, perhaps a more publicly-oriented way of interpreting this is as an example of how neoliberalism and austerity work more generally. It seems to me that this rising level of unhappiness in this sector is, if not the goal of neoliberal governance, then certainly one of its most important tools. Put simply, if you want less people doing publicly-funded research, you have a choice: kick them off the payroll just like that (as CBS will have to do) or make the career increasingly painful until people leave of their own accord. For those viewing the world via a behaviorist lens, the latter strategy is the more attractive one.
I spoke to Jonothan Neelands of the Warwick Commission, a multidisciplinary report on the future of culture in Britain. He told me that, soon after winning his Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen was invited to Downing Street. He asked Nicholas Serota of the Tate what he should speak to Cameron about. The answer: education, education, education. McQueen duly spent his 10 minutes with the prime minister talking about the need for a renewed focus on the humanities in schools and universities. At the end, Cameron, distractedly, said: "Oh yes, the arts, you should talk to Sam about that – she's interested in all that kind of thing." Despite the Warwick Commission showing that cultural industries contributed some £77bn to the British economy, the government is simply not interested, and the cries of the academics take on a plaintive note as they realise that they are not being heard now, and will probably not be heard in the future.
Philistine administrators plaster the campus with mindless logos and issue their edicts in barbarous, semiliterate prose. One Northern Irish vice chancellor commandeered the only public room left on campus, a common room shared by staff and students alike, for a private dining room in which he could entertain local bigwigs and entrepreneurs. When the students occupied the room in protest, he ordered his security guards to smash the only restroom near to hand. British vice chancellors have been destroying their own universities for years, but rarely as literally as that. On the same campus, security staff move students on if they are found hanging around. The ideal would be a university without these disheveled, unpredictable creatures.
In the midst of this debacle, it is the humanities above all that are being pushed to the wall. The British state continues to distribute grants to its universities for science, medicine, engineering, and the like, but it has ceased to hand out any significant resources to the arts. It is not out of the question that if this does not change, whole humanities departments will be closed down in the coming years. If English departments survive at all, it may simply be to teach business students the use of the semicolon, which was not quite what Northrop Frye and Lionel Trilling had in mind.
Hungry for their fees, some British universities are now allowing students with undistinguished undergraduate degrees to proceed to graduate courses, while overseas students (who are generally forced to pay through the nose) may find themselves beginning a doctorate in English with an uncertain command of the language. Having long despised creative writing as a vulgar American pursuit, English departments are now desperate to hire some minor novelist or failing poet in order to attract the scribbling hordes of potential Pynchons, ripping off their fees in full, cynical knowledge that the chances of getting one’s first novel or volume of poetry past a London publisher are probably less than the chances of awakening to discover that you have been turned into a giant beetle.
Education should indeed be responsive to the needs of society. But this is not the same as regarding yourself as a service station for neocapitalism. In fact, you would tackle society’s needs a great deal more effectively were you to challenge this whole alienated model of learning. Medieval universities served the wider society superbly well, but they did so by producing pastors, lawyers, theologians, and administrative officials who helped to sustain church and state, not by frowning upon any form of intellectual activity that might fail to turn a quick buck.
The government plans to let new providers offer degrees independently of universities before they gain their own degree powers, as part of plans to "open the market" in higher education.
The government's Productivity Plan, launched today by business secretary Sajid Javid and containing a section on higher education, also says that there will be a "faster" route to degree-awarding powers for new providers and that student number controls will be ended for the "best" private providers.
The moves would create extra competition for universities. The Conservatives have a long-standing aim to introduce new providers to drive down fees at universities.
The Productivity Plan, titled "Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation", also says the government "will consult later this year on how a Teaching Excellence Framework can be developed, including outcome-focused criteria and metrics.
"The Teaching Excellence Framework will inform student decision-making, continue to support a high average wage premium for graduates and ensure that students’ hard-won qualifications keep their value over time," it adds.
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