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.
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
For the last few weeks I’ve been out and about filming moments in the developing protest movement against the unconscionable coalition government and its programme of swingeing cuts in every department of social provision. The result has been a number of short videos posted here on Putney Debater. I’ve now been invited by the New Statesman to become its first video blogger, so from now on, that’s where my videos will be posted first (although I’ll continue to post written blogs here). Here’s the first one, which condenses the videos posted here previously with some additional material.
The idea I have is to build up a picture of the movement as it evolves, so I’m working on the basis that I’ll end up with a documentary record of three or four months of struggle. The method is simple: to return to Glauber Rocha’s formula for Cinema Novo in Brazil—to go and make films with a camera in the hand and an idea in the head. (Too simple for the section on methodology in a grant application, and there’s no time for that anyway, so I’m not making one.)
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
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.
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
This morning I caught the end of a story on the BBC news which concluded ‘The government says it wants universities to treat students more like consumers’. I respond by emitting an exclamation which cannot be repeated in polite language. How long have we been suffering from this worse than asinine instrumentalism? This kind of consumerisation is the negation of all pedagogic values, which depend on a dialogue between teacher and pupil which does not exist between buyer and seller. Teaching and learning are not separate processes but a dialectic. To ignore this is a violation of the student’s humanity, a denial of the hope that education offers to intelligence and imagination (or what’s left of them after getting through the school system). I therefore refuse to comply. To do so I should consider to be a dereliction of my responsibility as a professor to show academic leadership. Continue reading