The Third Convention for the Defence of Higher Education
This Saturday 15th October UCL, London, 10.00-17.00
Speakers: Professor Alison Wolf (KCL), Professor Martin McQuillan (Kingston and CDBU), Malia Bouattia (NUS President), Professor John Holmwood (Nottingham and CPU), Mark Campbell (London Met), Gordon Marsden (LP Shadow Minister for HE), representatives of the SNP, and Green Party, and others.
Supported by the CPU, CDBU, UCU and NUS
This is not a Convention to analyse, bemoan and urge opposition to the attacks on the quality and intellectual independence of HE teaching and scholarship. That has been done extensively already. This gathering is designed to organise Parliamentary, sectoral, institutional and community opposition to the Government’s HE Bill, and to prepare for resistance to its consequences should the Bill be passed into law.
We have lately been brought abruptly to an understanding of what the impending changes in Higher Education will mean for course provision, for respect for and the valuation of staff, and for a genuine concern for students’ education that is beyond a counter-productive obsession with NSS scores. We have also seen how the academic governance of HE institutions has slipped away from the collegial oversight of the academic scholars associated with them, and is now entirely exercised as top-down managerial processes. We have seen how the influence of all staff over institutional policy has been systematically undermined.
Compounding this threat to academic independence, last weekend the Conservative Party announced planned restrictions on international student numbers, as well as refusing to honour commitments to EU citizens, including some 15% of the staff currently working in our sector. The further restrictions on overseas recruitment, and the listing of ‘foreign workers’ (a policy initiative quickly abandoned) were clearly designed to create a discourse that foreigners are the problem, and that it is a ‘problem’ that the Government is addressing. Whatever political advantage this may have for the Conservative Party, it will certainly intensify the crisis facing universities.
The statutory backdrop to this crisis is the Government’s Bill for the reform of Higher Education regulation and funding. This is designed to facilitate the entry into the sector of private sector companies seeking profits from the lucrative fee income that is currently largely absorbed by not-for-profit universities. It will create intense competition between well-resourced institutions as they strive for top ranking, and a race to the bottom for the rest. Middle-ranking institutions will be squeezed out of existence in the medium term.
Far from increasing access for more young people, this will foreclose on the possibility of a properly higher education for all except those whose families can afford excessive fees, or those who are not risk-averse in the face of enormous, life-time debts. The majority of future generations of students will have de facto access only to cut-price, third-rate degrees. Meanwhile existing students will be encouraged to play a role in a false competition on teaching quality between institutions via the discredited NSS mechanism which systematically distorts institutional comparisons. These consequences are not speculation. They are currently manifest in the USA where a comparable HE structure has existed for some time.
This is the moment for all colleagues in the sector to come to the defence of Higher Education, and of their courses, of the intellectual integrity of their provision, and of the academic freedom on which scholarship depends.
You are urged to attend the Convention this Saturday.
Please attend the Third Convention on 15 October! You can register using the button below.