HE Convention 27 February, developing a collective critique of the HE Green Paper

A call for participation

Dear colleague

I am writing to everyone who has signed the statement in support of the HE Convention to ask for your help.

The Government’s Green Paper on Higher Education has been published.

The closing date for consultation is 15 January. Last week the Convention steering committee agreed that we would use the Convention wordpress website  to encourage colleagues to engage with the arguments of the Green Paper and enable that the sector speak up against the Government’s plans for us.

ACTION: In the first instance, I would encourage colleagues to read the Green Paper. If you have comments, links to pieces you have already written, etc., please do send these to me. I will collate these responses under the four headings of the Green Paper (see below). CPU colleagues have already developed a response on the TEF (Part A).

When material is published, please do circulate it to colleagues, and encourage people to read the Green Paper and engage with the arguments.

The Second HE Convention is scheduled for Saturday 27 February at UCL. [Note we have moved this date from 6 February due to a clash with another event.] This will be the opportunity to gather academics together from across the sector to gather the broadest possible groundswell of opposition to the Green Paper.

“[We fear] the transformation of self-governing communities of scholars into mega-businesses, staffed by a highly-paid executive class, who oversee the professors, or middle managers, who in turn rule over an ill-paid and often temporary or part-time proletariat of junior lecturers and research assistants, coping with an ever worsening staff-student ratio; …[and the idea] that universities, rather than collaborating on their common task, should compete with one another, and with private providers, to sell their services in a market, where students are seen, not as partners in a joint enterprise of learning and understanding, but as ‘consumers’, seeking the cheapest deals.” – PROF SIR KEITH THOMAS,28 All Souls College, Oxford University (quoted in The Real Cost of Privatisation, CLASS)

The structure of the convention itself will mirror the structure of the Green Paper.

What is in the Green Paper?

Here are the principal headings:

Part A: Teaching Excellence, Quality and Social Mobility
Chapter 1: Introducing the Teaching Excellence Framework
Chapter 2: Assessment process, outcomes and incentives
Chapter 3: Criteria and metrics
Chapter 4: Social mobility and widening participation

Part B: The higher education sector
Chapter 1: Opening the sector to new providers
Chapter 2: Provider exit and student protection

Part C: Simplifying the higher education architecture
Chapter 1: A simpler system with students at the centre
Chapter 2: The Office for Students
Chapter 3: Further deregulation

Part D: Reducing complexity and bureaucracy in research funding
Chapter 1: Research landscape
Chapter 2: The Research Excellence Framework

In brief

  • Part A proposes the TEF,
  • Part B promotes an “easy come, easy go” structure for private companies,
  • Part C guts Governance and academic Statutes (reducing the Privy Council’s role in governance), and
  • Part D says lets just focus research funding on those who did better in the past (a divisive shift away from any pretence at meritocracy in research funding).

Along the way the Green Paper is replete with unsupported assertions and leading questions.

Here’s a good one:

“1. Widening the range of high quality higher education providers [i.e. allowing private companies to set up “universities”] stimulates competition and innovation, increases choice for students, and can help to deliver better value for money.” (p42)

By contrast, see UCU’s report of the Public Accounts Committee’s questioning of the “better value for money” of private providers in 2014.

What is the Government agenda?

What is happening appears to be an attempt at a paradigm shift from a UK model of HE to a US model. In the US model, tuition fees are a financial instrument guaranteeing the profitability of organisations who can sign up students. It represents a government-backed gold-plated incentive for private companies, like the Apollo Group “University of Phoenix Arizona” (frequently “top-performing” on the US NASDAQ) to bilk the public purse.

What is at stake is the shape of the entire HE sector. The Government essentially proposes to smash up the self-governing, community-of-academics model of HE, where the pursuit of knowledge is at the core of a university, and replace it with a “HE-course-provider” marketplace, where universities are primarily motivated by getting tuition fee income for the minimum of investment.

I believe we can win. I think we can convince very many people, including members of the public who have no direct contact with Higher Education, that it is right to stop this attempt to transform HE. If junior doctors can convince the public to oppose the Conservative plan to change their contract, we can do likewise.

See also

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About Sean

Senior Research Fellow, Survey of English Usage, University College London
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