An effective response to a dystopian vision

(The Higher, 21 May 2015)

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What does the recent election result presage for UK higher education (‘Sector stands by for battles …’ (THE, 14 May))? Evidently, a continuation of recent course and speed, namely:

  • removing the fee cap, thus further stratifying the sector;
  • more deregulation and further pickings for the private providers;
  • breaking up national bargaining on employment terms and conditions;
  • intensifying REF pressure through performance management, thus skewing research to serve a political agenda;
  • further encroachment of income-generating activities; and
  • entrenching the consumerist distortion of the academy through more NSS-style ‘assessments’.

We may expect more commercial and political attacks on academic freedoms; the elimination of academic governance in favour of corporate interests and ‘brand identity’; and further differentiation between colleagues in stable employment and those on casual contracts. The overall effect will be to undermine the universities’ capacity for genuine critical engagement.

In accelerating the end of the idea of a public university, these changes will fundamentally alter the nature of university education in the UK, and what it means to be a scholar and a student. As such, they represent the demise of the UK’s position, whatever its faults, in the world of higher education, learning, scholarship and research

At present, as scholars and academics, we are not in a good position to resist the implementation of this dystopian vision. Our initiatives in the academy (the Council for the Defence of British Universities and the Campaign for the Public University) have done important work to inform staff and students, as well as the general public, of what’s been going on since 2010 but without significant policy effects. Our trade union, the UCU, has impressive policies against the commercialisation of the sector and performance management but has been unable to turn the tide, and it has been weakened by successive defeats on pensions and pay.

There is a clear paradox here since the large majority of us is opposed to this destruction. We have a duty, therefore, to identify what is under threat, and what an effective response might be.

The future of HE in the UK is in the balance. Now is the time to convene to diagnose the problem, to develop a strategy to defend the sector, and to explain this to the wider society. We urge colleagues to plan a London conference in the autumn to resist this impending disaster.


Tom Hickey (Brighton UCU)
Professor John Holmwood (Nottingham, and Campaign for the Public University, CPU)
Sean Wallis (UCL, and UCU NEC & London Region UCU)
Professor Thomas Docherty (Warwick, and Council for the Defence of British Universities, CDBU)
Professor Martin McQuillan (Kingston, and CDBU)
Professor Howard Hotson (Oxford, and CDBU)
Professor Miriam David (IoE)
Priyamvada Gopal (Cambridge)
Professor Bob Brecher (Brighton)
Adrian Budd (London South Bank UCU)
Professor Dennis Leech (Warwick)
Dr. Saladin Meckled-Garcia (UCL UCU)
Professor Kate Chedgzoy (Newcastle)
Professor Des Freedman (Goldsmiths UCU)
Professor Jeff Duckett (QMUL)
Professor Lucie Clapp (UCL)
Professor Jane Rendell (UCL)
Professor Melissa Terras (UCL)
Jim Wolfreys (Kings UCU)
Professor Mike Otsuka (LSE)
Professor Richard Farndale (Cambridge)
Professor Patricia Waugh (Durham)
Professor Jane Hardy (Hertfordshire)
Carlo Morelli (Dundee, and UCU NEC)
Professor Malcolm Povey (Leeds)
Keith Simpson (City UCU)
Professor Philip Marfleet (UEL)
Ronald Mendel (Secretary, Northampton UCU)
Dr. Andy Mullen (Northumbria)
Mark Abel (Chair, Brighton UCU)
John Yandell (UCL IoE, London)
Dr. Rick Saull (Secretary, Queen Mary UCU)
Nadia Edmond (Branch Chair, Brighton UCU)
Professor G. K. Bbhambra (Warwick, and Campaign for the Public University)
Dr. Melanie Crofts (Equality Rep, Northampton UCU)
Terry Brotherstone (Aberdeen)
Nick Cartwright (Northampton UCU)
Dr Julie Hearn (Lancaster)
Ngai-Ling Sum (Lancaster)
Marian Mayer, (Chair, Bournemouth UCU)
Saira Weiner (UCU NEC; Liverpool John Moores)
Professor Paul Blackledge (Secretary, Leeds Beckett UCU, UCU NEC)
Peter Winbourne (Retired Reader in Education, LSBU)
Jean Crocker (UCU Disabled Members’ Standing Committee, and Teesside)
Mark Campbell (London Metropolitan UCU)
Dr. David Stewart (Liverpool UCU)
Dr. Joel Dunn (London Region UCU Chair (HE); KCL)
Professor Nadje Al-Ali (Chair, SOAS UCU)
Dr. Samia Bano (SOAS)
Feyzi Ismail (SOAS)
Andrew Kennedy (SOAS UCU)
Professor Gilbert Achcar (SOAS)
Dr Tony Sullivan (UoA London)
Ciara Doyle (Greenwich UCU)
Polly Pallister (SOAS UCU)
Dr Ruth Lewis (Northumbria)
Professor Reinhard Bachmann (SOAS)
Dr. Patricia McManus (Brighton UCU; UCU NEC)
Professor Ian Parker (Leicester)
Professor Annabelle Sreberny (SOAS)
Veronica Killen (Northumbria UCU; ex-UCU NEC)
Dr. Manjeet Ramgotra (SOAS)
Rupert Waldron (LCF Membership Secretary, UoA London)
Ruth Dar (UCL UCU)
Dr. Geoffrey Williams (UCL UCU)
Dr. James Cussens (York UCU)
Rose Stark (London South Bank)
David Clemson (London South Bank)
Russell Caplan (London South Bank)
Dr. Geoffrey Abbott (Newcastle UCU)
Dr. Achim Treumann (Newcastle)
Claudia Baldoli (Newcastle)
Dr. Sue Abbott (Northumbria UCU; UCU NEC)
Dr Paul Attinello (Newcastle)
Diana Paton (Newcastle)
Prof. William Outhwaite (Newcastle)
Dr Stacy Gillis (Newcastle)
Kirsten MacLeod (Newcastle)
Ella Dzelzainis (Newcastle)
Dr Andrew Shail (Newcastle)
Michael Carley (Bath UCU)
Dr Martin Fry (UCL UCU)
Prof. Andreas Bieler (Nottingham UCU; UCU NEC)
Phil Vellender (London South Bank)
Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (UCL)
Dr. Sherrill Stroschein (UCL)
Xanthe Whittaker (Leicester UCU; UCU NEC)
Dr Rachel Cohen (City UoL UCU)
Saira Weiner (Liverpool John Moores UCU; UCU NEC)
Jo Frankham (Liverpool John Moores)
Jamie Melrose (Bristol UCU)
Dr Rachel Garfield (Reading)
Prof. Ray Bush (Leeds)
Angela Gilchrist (Canterbury Christchurch)
John Hilsdon (Plymouth)
Dr Helen Beer (UCL)
Dr Joao Florencio (Exeter)
Dr Mark Holmstram (UEA, retired)
Dr Chrysanthi Nigianni (Goldsmiths)
Jon Nixon (Hong Kong Institute of Education)
Dr Gail Edwards (Newcastle)
Joanna Harrison (Wolverhampton)
Jacqui Walker (SEN) Cedars academy trust
Katja Rebmann (Warwick)
Korina Giaxoglou (Kingston)
Rachael Dobson (Kingston)
Federica Frabetti (Oxford Brookes)
Prof Roger Brown (Liverpool Hope, retired)

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1 Response to Statement

  1. Russell Caplan says:

    Our universities are fast becoming glorified employment bureaus where success is calibrated by what sort of job one gets on completing their studies. This is a perversion of the academy.

    Liked by 1 person

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