Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Education Up for Sale, Again

I'm surprised this leak hasn't attracted more comment from leftist bloggers. Isn't the Financial Times the bourgeois paper of choice for "serious" socialists? No matter. The article claims the government is cosying up to big capital (again) by opening the Higher Education sector to even more market pressures. On the back of the "success" of the city academies programme (where business gets a say over the curriculum in exchange for a wad of cash) the government's "confidential blueprint", the Higher Level Skills Strategy, aims to extend cash for courses. Employers will be allowed to determine course content at universities that sign up.

According to the FT the government recognises some universities will fear the running of privately-sponsored courses may impact adversely on the institution's image. But, the FT allege, a good chunk of extra funding earmarked for universities over the next few years has been allocated to this project. Who cares about reputation and standing when business can supply a stream of undergrads who pay a premium fee? Worryingly the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is convinced traditional recruitment straight from sixth forms and colleges is set to decline. As far as the Department is concerned, there is no case for further university expansion to be funded from the public purse, therefore universities should be more accomodating to the requirements of employers and business to attract more recruits. And faithful to this twisted neoliberal vision, academics have no place designing the courses they teach!

If the leak turns out to be accurate (remember, "leaks" are often an informal means of testing the water), then we are looking at a major attack on HE in this country. "Unfashionable" scholarship has long been in the firing line, and life will become more difficult for all non-vocational courses once private capital starts arriving in large quantities. All the humanities, from politically engaged disciplines like sociology, cultural studies, and political economy to the "safety" of literature, philosophy, art, are likely to face attacks for not being commercially viable or "useful". The presence of private money will endanger what is left of academic autonomy. Given the choice between upsetting industry patrons or upholding the freedom of inquiry, how many vice chancellors are going to put principle before cash flow? Not a great number, I'd wager.

The UCU has issued a press release in response here.


Renegade Eye said...

In the US it is worse, particularly in even public schools. Teachers are flown to conventions, to learn about various privatized teaching packages. It goes well with the emphasis on rote learning.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

I remember reading this, and was considering posting on it until i saw you'd already done it.
As you point out it does look rather like 'city academies' for HE.