The British university system is at a crossroads. The recent Browne Review combined with the Lib-Con spending cuts spells out a dire future for the university. The proposal to remove the cap on fees, to slash funding for teaching in all the arts and humanities, and the continued imposition of market models on research and teaching are leading to far more than a ‘tightening of the belts’ – they will completely change the nature of the university.
As the government slashes the university teaching budget from £3.5 billion to just £700 million, fees will rise up to a cap of £9000 per annum, with many universities opting out of the ‘public’ system as fees become the dominant source of income for university departments. Guided by the market rather than by social need or academic exploration of knowledge, courses will become designed by ad-men and accountants, where the only concern is selling the ‘product’. Individual departments – or even whole disciplines – will be allowed to fail, as the determining logic becomes ‘if they don’t make money, then they aren’t important’. Whole universities face the prospect of ‘corporate takeovers’, as it becomes more cost-effective for a UK university to be run as a department of ‘University Inc.’ – with courses designed thousands of miles away by business men looking to dominate and exploit the market. Indeed, what’s to stop any corporation taking over a university if it is a financially viable business? Bradford University has already proudly announced its ‘Morrisons’ degree program that promises you a supermarket degree for a supermarket career.
As students and staff at different places within the university system, we can see a different way forward. We propose the following three reforms to the higher education system, exploring who should pay for them and how they should be run. These reforms offer a different way forward to the ideologically imposed ‘slash and burn’ of the Browne Review and the government. These reforms are the first step in transforming the university into something it has never been- an educational institution in hands of society, that focuses teaching and research on improving human and ecological welfare rather than bolstering private profits and reproducing elite and commercial values. There reforms should be understood as the opening of a new trajectory for the university system, and at the same time to provoke wider questions about the principles according to which our society is run.
To read our suggested reforms go to: http://reallyopenuniversity.wordpress.com/3-alternative-reforms/