UK Universities In Turmoil: Students And Lecturers Unite Against Education Cuts:

img_0922“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know”. For Daniel J. Boorstin, the University of Chicago’s renowned former historian and an ex- Harvard & Oxford student, the opportunity to further expand one’s knowledge represents the main justification and incentive for moving from High School to the College Campus.

The Huffington Post’s Gemma Parry, however, when compiling her list of the “Ten Reasons To Go To University”, has been rather more pragmatic. Yes, she points out, you’ll have three years enjoying yourself, meeting new people, attending courses you’ve chosen rather than the ones imposed on you at school – but above all, you’re there because you’re well aware that, “without a degree, finding a good, well-paid job will be tough”.

The Daily Telegraph journalist, Elizabeth Anderson, agrees with Parry that “degrees still matter”. This opinion is based on research conducted by the job search website Adzuna which has indicated that jobseekers without a degree are likely to earn “up to £12,000 a year less than their graduate counterparts when entering the employment market” – the equivalent of more than £500,000 during an average working life”.

The “Rent Strike Now” campaigners, however, are somewhat less impressed by these statistics. In their leaflet handed out at the demonstration in London on Saturday 19th November against the Government’s proposed education cuts, they declared that “Students are often told that they are privileged in society, yet the university is little more than a factory, an educational business that educates for business”. In other words, the university’s role now (they fear) is to prepare students for their future exploitation, charging them high fees for learning how to work in jobs that no longer pay a living wage, thereby “consigning them to a lifetime of bad employment and worse debts”.

The Times Higher Education (THS) correspondent, Jack Grove, highlighted in his report on the demonstration the fact that, among the estimated 15,000 plus people marching from Park Lane to Parliament Square were many faculty staff and lecturers. They had joined with the students to “protest against rising university tuition fees, funding cuts and the privatisation of education” as well as their own perceived work insecurity and modest pay. The event was organised jointly by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University & College Union (UCU) to oppose “new government reforms that threaten to impose higher tuition fees (“£12,000 by 2026”), close down universities and allow private companies to award degrees”.

This was the dominant message of most of the banners and placards being carried by the marchers, though some of them also referred to other specific issues: The “Collective of Students Against Brexit”, for example, is demanding a second Referendum on the  “exit terms” from the European Union and believes that “any Brexit will be a disaster for the UK’s universities, colleges and students”. A handout being distributed on behalf of the NUS advocated a boycott of both the 2017 National Student Survey (NSS) and the Government’s proposed introduction of a “Teaching Excellence Framework” (TEF”).

The annual NSS, launched in 2005, is officially aimed “mainly at final-year undergraduates to gather feedback from students in publicly funded Higher Education Institutions across the UK about their experience of their courses”. As the THS has noted, however, “animosity towards the NSS has been brewing among the student body for some time”, due to the fact that (for those in favour of a boycott), it symbolises the marketization of education. Because, adds the THS, the results are being linked to the possibility of putting up fees, it has become even more important than hitherto for educational institutions to ensure that their students complete the NSS form.

The “Technical Consultation on TEF” issued by the Department of Education & Skills in May contends that the scheme will “help to drive up UK productivity by ensuring a better match of graduate skills with the needs of employers and the economy”, will “provide clear information to students about where the best educational provision can be found, should encourage providers to improve teaching quality and thereby reduce variability”.

Both the NUS and the “National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts (NCAFC) are infuriated by the prospect that universities will be allowed to charge “higher different prices for degrees” depending on whether they are awarded a gold, silver, or bronze “medal” under the TEF rating system. This, they anticipate, will not only cause further tension between already fiercely competing institutions but will also be used “within universities to justify departmental decisions and to discipline staff”.

The top echelons at the UK’s universities currently face a variety of concerns In The Guardian on 17th November, two of its columnists, Aditya Chakrabortty and Sally Weale, depicted the university teaching profession in the UK as “dominated by zero-hours contracts, temp agencies and other forms of precarious work”. The figure they gave for academic staff employed on this basis at Birmingham University was 70.3%; at Warwick: 68.1%; Edinburgh: 66.6%; Oxford:63.7% – the consequence of which (they asserted) is that some of these lecturers “don’t provide their students with the quality of teaching to which they are entitled”

.On the 24th November, the Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University, Professor Hugh Brady, in an interview with Sky News’ senior political correspondent, Robert Nisbet, warned that some UK universities could close unless the Government provides them with guarantees regarding the Brexit negotiations”. He argued forcefully that international students should be removed from immigration statistics and queried “why we should want to jeopardise a system which is so important for our economic future”.

According to “Universities UK” “the higher education sector is worth £73 billion per annum to the UK – or 2.8% of GDP”. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has recently issued data suggesting there has been a “9% fall in early applications from the rest of the European Union for studying in the UK in 2017”.img_0976img_0979img_0985

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Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Politics, Society | Posted on November 29th, 2016 by Colin D Gordon

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