Tag Archives: Academic life

Teachers and Learners in Bristol – new video blog

The repercussions of the cuts in Higher Education are being felt in Bristol, where lecturers at the University of the West of England (UWE) have been forced to take strike action over threats to staffing. Here I report on the strike and find out what students who supported it think about the situation. See the video here.


Why Education is not a Commodity

The arguments advanced by government ministers like David Willetts for the draconian reform of university funding are confused and specious. They would certainly fail any exam in logic. Rather than reason, they depend on various forms of mediatised rhetoric, like Orwell’s newspeak, or doublespeak, or what the writer Steve Poole has called unspeak—although sometimes they amount to simple misrepresentation, derived from hasty and inadequate statistics, or falsehood resulting from denial. Continue reading

Nutters on the web

It’s a curious business. You’ve got these two nutters. One of them, let’s call him Rajiv, has culled some emails from a discussion list from which he’s been excluded for assorted ravings, and sends out plaintive missives couched in terms of eastern philosophy which no-one can understand. The second nutter, we’ll him Jack, receives one of his messages, and knowing something about eastern philosophy, takes it seriously and replies. One or two others complain to the discussion list which they mistake it as coming from, to which Nutter No.2 responds in terms that people on the list find pretty offensive (and it’s not the first time his interventions on this list have caused unhappiness either).

Seems to me this incident should be understood symptomatically. Continue reading

Do you wanna marketise our education?

Do you wanna marketise our education? We will educate your market!
SOAS Occupation 2010

The first snows of winter have come early but it’s beginning to look like things are hotting up. The second mass student demonstration in a fortnight, and more to follow.  One student website declares: ‘We shall not stop until we break the government’s cuts programme or we break the government’ (NCAFC).

It seems a whole generation is learning very fast the meaning of political betrayal. A few months ago, Nick Clegg and the Lib-Dems promised to oppose any increase in university fees. ‘Hundreds of thousands of students, voting for the first time, took him at his word and “agreed with Nick” at the ballot box’, writes Nick Faulkner over on  Counterfire. On the 10 November demonstration, he says, ‘The sense of betrayal, and the consequent anger against Clegg, was visceral’. Now all Clegg can say is that he ‘massively regrets’ having to break his promise—you bet! May it yet prove his comeuppance. Continue reading

Feedback on Universities Funding Crisis

Some interesting feedback on my recent post about universities funding, from discussion lists and private contacts. Two or three people thought that the situation I described isn’t crazy but a logical result of the way capitalism works. As one comment put it, state support of higher education is part of the social wage, and it makes perfect sense for capitalist interests to try to push down the social wage when profits are at risk; and when there’s little organized or effective opposition, there’s nothing to stop them. Yes, but by calling it crazy I wanted to register, first, how angry it makes me, and second, that this way of running the world is meshuga, because it can only make matters worse. As my brother Gabriel once put it, capitalists are rarely as intelligent as they would be if they were designed by Marxists.

It’s also necessary to correct the impression given by the Guardian letter that I quoted about the way different countries are approaching things. For a better idea, look at Universities in Crisis, the blog of the International Sociological Association.

Crazy about HE

The last time I voted Labour (apart from the London Mayoral election) was 1997. My disillusion with New Labour under Tony Blair began almost immediately, and was due to his treatment of the Dearing Report on Higher Education. Higher education had been taken off the agenda of election issues by the appointment of the Dearing committee which wasn’t due to report until after the election was over. Blair took full advantage of the fact that when the report came out we were into the summer, when faculty are dispersed and least able to respond. He cherry-picked what he wanted and rammed it through, going against Dearing’s recommendations by introducing the combination of tuition fees and student loans. After this highly undemocratic behaviour, I never trusted Blair on anything. Continue reading

Isaiah Berlin in the Media

As a student of Isaiah Berlin’s back in the late 1960s, I have been intrigued by the media treatment of his hundredth birthday, which with one or two exceptions, faithfully celebrates both the memory of his dazzling personality and his role as the philosopher of liberalism in the age of the Cold War. His ideological position had little to do with why I went to study with him, after taking a first degree in philosophy, since I was fast becoming a Marxist, but my intellectual interest was the link between Marx and the Romantics, and I’d heard him lecture on the latter and read his book on the former, and he clearly knew a great deal about both. Continue reading

On academic reporting

Having completed my new film, The American Who Electrified Russia, which was funded by the AHRC, I have to fill in the end-of-award report. Since the last time I had to do this, they’ve added a new section on ‘impact’, which is extraordinarily ill-conceived. It’s all on-line, of course, and very rigidly implemented, but the real problem is this: how are you supposed to assess the impact when you’ve just completed the work and it has yet to be shown or published? Continue reading