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The Island

THE PRIVATIZATION OF THE HUMANITIES

If you tolerate this… Lord Browne and the Privatisation of the Humanities

By Martin McQuillan

The pithily entitled ‘Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance’ was published on Tuesday. In short, for those not parochial enough to be concerned by this, it was a committee set up by the previous Labour government, chaired by ex-BP boss John Browne (as one of the many sinecures offered to him, including Chair of the Tate Trustees, in compensation for the homophobia that chased him out of the oil industry, otherwise it would have been him and not Tony Hayward taking the rap for the Deepwater Horizon disaster) charged with considering future funding arrangements for universities and their students in England.

The headlines from the report are that 1. The current cap of £3,290 on student tuition fees should be scrapped in favour of potentially unlimited fees set by universities themselves, 2. The current teaching grant distributed to English universities should be cut by £3.2billion with a 100% reduction for the arts, humanities and social sciences. In effect Browne’s committee (which included the Chief Executive of Standard Chartered PLC, the Head of McKinsey, and two Vice-Chancellors) has at a stroke privatised the arts and humanities in England. The committee recommends that the state should no longer have any investment in these areas and that private individuals who wish to pursue such things at their own cost should pay for them.

It is hard to know where to begin with this. There are no workarounds, no accommodations to be made, no temporary crisis to be endured; this is the nuclear option, total and irreversible wipeout. Now, there is a difference between the publication of a so-called ‘Independent’ Review (Browne has now moved on to his next job advising the coalition government on Whitehall job cuts, and his review has clearly been hijacked to feed the ideological attack on the state currently being pursued by an administration that no one voted for) and how it translates into legislation through the torturous process of what Washington would call ‘the pork barrel politics’ of buying off a Lib Dem back bench revolt. However, there would seem to be little to be hoped for in this regard. What is striking here is not that higher education (and the arts, humanities and social sciences in particular) have been targeted but that they have been the first thing to be attacked and in such a spectacularly ruthless manner. The calculation must be that the news agenda will have moved on next week when everyone is more concerned by the fate of ‘useful things’ like hospitals and fire stations in the Comprehensive Spending Review. And of course, if the ConDems cannot be bothered to fund humanities teaching any more there is very little prospect that they will continue to fund humanities research. ‘The future has been cancelled’, as Graham Allen, writing in the context of Irish cuts, put it recently.

Most people will blame the Conservatives; the Conservatives will hope that most people will blame the LibDems. I do not blame either; I expect nothing else from the guardians of class privilege and their unscrupulous carpet-bagging associates. The people who are to blame for this are the Vice-Chancellors of UK universities (with one honourable exception) who have consistently pressed for an increase in tuition fees in order to maximise the return to their institutions. Tuition Fees used to be called ‘top-up fess’ because they were additional to state funding which had fallen behind the real costs of running universities. However, the short-termism of Vice-Chancellors failed to understand that as soon as fees were introduced the university sector would not only lose its place in the queue for, but its claim entirely on, the public purse. The Browne Report hits Vice-Chancellors with a sucker punch: you can have unlimited fees but you can no longer have public funding.

While science and ‘priority’ subjects will continue to receive a teaching grant the rest of us must fend for ourselves. The people who will be most affected by this is not so-called ‘teaching-focussed universities’ but those so-called ‘elite’, so-called ‘research-intensive’, so-called ‘universities’. Dear reader, I spent 10 years directing research in a Russell Group university, I know how much mediocrity there is out there, wrapped in snobbery and shrouded in utterly bogus ‘missions groups’ which allow ministers to divide and rule the sector through its own vanity. If there is no public funding and no funding council to distribute it then there will be no cap on student numbers for institutions. Humanities departments in ‘elite universities’ will only survive by piling students high and servicing them at low costs. The Browne Report does not set them free to compete with the world’s best universities, it impoverishes them and turns all of the arts, humanities and social sciences in England into teaching-focussed universities. Lets not even get started on what it means for the Art Schools and monotechnics; all advances made in funding of the humanities over the last thirteen years have been put into sharp and irrecoverable reverse.

I could make a defence of the worth of the humanities but if legislators cannot recognize their value from the outset then no words here will persuade them. Nor will I make the obvious case for the social mobility afforded by a university education—as if a Conservative-lead administration gave two figs for the education of the lower orders. However, the fundamental reason to oppose tuition fees of any kind is that those who benefited from a free higher education as a democratic right should not when in government (as a result of that free higher education) tell future generations that they must now take on mortgage-sized debts to pay for the same privilege. How this is ‘progressive and fair’, as our politicians like to say, is a mystery. One should not just resist this situation; it has to be refused utterly.

Distracted by the chimera of RAE results and QAA inspections, academics in the United Kingdom have not had the best track record in saying no to government in the last twenty years, but if this does not rouse us nothing ever will. And if it can happen in England it will without doubt be rolled out across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Europe, and Australia. This is a culture war in which critical thought is threatened with extinction. It is time to stop writing the monograph on the footnotes of Henry James, drop the myth of ‘research’ and ‘teaching’ institutions, and do something quickly to save everything any academic worthy of the name holds dear.

http://www.thelondongraduateschool.co.uk/thoughtpiece/if-you-tolerate-this%E2%80%A6-lord-browne-and-the-privatisation-of-the-humanities/

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowidea.co.uk

Education on Trial

EDUCATION ON TRIAL

Education on Trial will be happening in the heart of London at ULU on Thursday 4th November from 6-11pm.

The event is held in the wake of the cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review and ahead of the NUS/UCU national demonstration against education cuts.

Comedians, artists, musicians, poets, academics and activists will discuss schools, testing, funding education, what education is for and much more around a central ‘pub table’ where audience members are encouraged to join in the debate.

Tickets are £5/3 are available online at PayPal at http://lovemutinytickets.blogspot.com/2010/10/education-on-trial-tickets.html

Organisers are asking supporters and regulars to book up now to avoid disappointment.

The fantastic line up includes: Vicki Baars from NUS LGBT, academic and activist Gareth Dale, A-Level lecturer Matthew Beggs, a 3-minute primary school lesson, performance poet Alison Brumfitt, Ally Moss from the Middlesex occupation, Bertie and Victoria from the Really Open University, comedian Grainne Maguire, exclusive video interviews on the radical potential for education, and academic and free schools activist Debra Benita Shaw, banner making with resident artist Sky Yarlett….and you!

Tickets at www.jointhemutiny.org

END

‘I believe in the afterlife.

It starts tomorrow,

When I go to work’

Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Human Herbs’ at: http://www.myspace.com/coldhandsmusic (recording) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h7tUq0HjIk (live)

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowideas.co.uk

MySpace Profile: http://www.myspace.com/glennrikowski

The Ockress: http://www.theockress.com

Wavering on Ether: http://blog.myspace.com/glennrikowski

Rikowski Point: http://rikowskipoint.blogspot.com

Red

ROUGE FORUM UPDATE: UPRISING IN FRANCE, VICTORY IN CHICAGO!!

A Message from Rich Gibson

Dear Friends

The Rouge Forum Blog is updated here; http://www.richgibson.com/blog/

For those headed to San Francisco for the Uprising Conference next weekend, please email as to where you will be, phone contacts, etc.

Good luck to us, every one.
Rich Gibson

Report from Anon in France (10-18):

I’m exhausted.

I’ve spent the last three days going from road block to road block, together with teachers, railroad workers, truckers, nurses, etc. So far, in our sector, we’ve managed the feat of keeping the Arnages oil depot totally closed since Friday 4 AM!

As a result, all the petrol stations in a radius of 70 kms are closed, completely out of gas. I slept 4 hours on Friday night, 6 hours on Saturday, 2 on Monday … Today, we got the main Teachers’ Union to call on all striking teachers to come and help block all the remaining fuel depots. The police can’t intervene, because the truckers have established road blocks on the major roads leading to the oil depot. What is incredible is that despite the fact that there is no more oil available, and therefore that people are blocked at home, a resounding 71% of the population approves of the strike (according to today’s opinion polls).

The movement is set to last at least another week. I spent the whole of Sunday night with transport (railway and truckers) workers playing cards and drinking beer. It was quite cold (2°C) around 4 AM, but the railroad workers brought several truck-loads of “palettes” (empty wooden containers) and we lit a might bonfire.

Striking workers from the neighbouring Renault factory brought firecrackers and we spent the wee hours of the morning lighting them. Workers are determined to fight until the bitter end. Workers who chose not to go on strike are being encouraged to donate part of their salary to the workers of the most “strategic” sectors, especially the Donges refinery.

Personally, this is my 6th day of Strike. An open-ended strike that might not be the best way of going about things, the consensus now being that “revolving” strikes (15% of the workforce on strike on a given day) would enable us to hold out longer. The support from “ordinary people” is astounding. When we block a freeway, drivers often honk to support us, give us money, hand us daily newspapers, even though we are effectively blocking them.

I’ve decided to stay on strike for a further three days but to spend more time with my family, which is also what the union is advocating. Some comrades have spent 4 days without going home and the union is worried this may cause trouble with spouses, who are forced to look after the kids, which would further undermine our resolve.

All 12 French oil refineries are on strike until next Friday. Many depots are blocked. Half the trains (including major ones) are not running. Truckers have blocked the roads leading to the main production areas, and factories cannot function because they lack raw material and pieces (they don’t have any stocks of materials stored because they believe storage costs money).

Anyway, the mood is indescribable. Workers from every sector are united and determined, and for the first time, many workers can chat with people employed in other industries knowing that they share a common goal.

The only problem is, it will be hard, very hard to go back to work. But thanks to the government, people are prepared to remain on strike until next week. Then we’ll see.

It’s a general strike and a lot of ordinary workers I’ve talked to are determined not to resume work until the retirement age is brought back to 60.

END

‘I believe in the afterlife.

It starts tomorrow,

When I go to work’

Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Human Herbs’ at: http://www.myspace.com/coldhandsmusic (recording) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h7tUq0HjIk (live)

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowideas.co.uk

MySpace Profile: http://www.myspace.com/glennrikowski

The Ockress: http://www.theockress.com

Wavering on Ether: http://blog.myspace.com/glennrikowski

Rikowski Point: http://rikowskipoint.blogspot.com

Bonuses for Some

THE COALITION SPENDING REVIEW AND LABOUR’S ALTERNATIVE

PUBLIC MEETING: The Coalition Spending Review and Labour’s Alternative

7-9pm Thursday 21 October
House of Commons, Committee Room 14, St. Stephen’s entrance.

Jon Cruddas MP, Frances O’Grady (Deputy General Secretary of the TUC), Polly Toynbee (The Guardian), Larry Elliott (The Guardian), Chair Aditya Chakrabortty (The Guardian)

Places are limited. Please register by emailing newpolecon@googlemail.com
Organised by the New Political Economy Network, Soundings and Compass, in association with The Guardian

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowideas.co.uk

Rikowski Point: http://rikowskipoint.blogspot.com

Higher Education Crisis

SCRAP FEES! FIGHT CUTS!

Yesterday saw things heating up on colleges and universities across the country. The recommendation of the Browne Review to scrap the cap and rise tuition fees to £12,000 has enraged students. Spontaneous demonstrations captured the mood of students facing attack after attack on higher education. The Comprehensive Spending Review will announce plans to cut up to 80% (£3.9bn) of the annual teaching budget next week on October 20th.

At London South Bank University students blocked the road and occupied a lobby in protest against language department closure. At Leeds a protest of more than 100 students made Channel 4 news. In Birmingham, 200 students demonstrated. 150 people came to an anti-cuts meeting called at 24 hour notice at Sheffield Uni.

At every institution we should be calling demonstrations, rallies and Students’ Union general meetings to capture the mood to build the biggest possible turnout to the Education Activist Network conference on October 31st and the national UCU/NUS demonstration on November 10th.

Students in France show the way. They have now joined workers in the largest pension protests. More than 300 secondary schools were shut down yesterday. Their response to the crisis raises the question: ‘Why not here?’

At the Education Activist Network Conference backed by NUS, UCU activists and students will be raising the prospect of coordinating French-style mass action to defeat the cuts and the Browne Review and at the same time fight for an alternative vision of education. Come along!

The timetable for the conference is out now: http://educationactivistnetwork.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/timetable.pdf

The website: http://educationactivistnetwork.wordpress.com

Register for the conference:

http://educationactivistnetwork.blogspot.com/

If you want to have anything be added to the blog or have any queries please e-mail edcuationactivistnetwork@agitnet.com or mark.bergfeld@nus.org.uk If you want to put on a minibus or bring people down please get in touch with me.

In Solidarity,

Mark Bergfeld, NUS NEC on behalf of Education Activist Network Conference

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowideas.co.uk

MySpace Profile: http://www.myspace.com/glennrikowski