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Living Fire

Living Fire


(The Higher, 21 May 2015)

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)
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 (South Bank UCU)
Professor Dennis Leech (Warwick)
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)




‘Human Herbs’ – a song by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon:

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

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One Comment

  1. Reblogged this on National Mobilization For Equity and commented:
    And what will the 2016 election cycle bring to U.S. higher education? What do UK results presage for us?

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