This is a crisis for education
This post is the first in a series Bright Green is doing in collaboration with an alliance of groups campaigning against the government’s ‘Opening Public Services’ proposals. The Government plans are to privatise all public services (except for military & judiciary). You can take part through next week’s ‘Week of Auctions‘ taking place across the UK.
So the government’s got plans for education, like everything else in the country higher education is facing a sell off. Many people seem to think that education reforms have already happened. However, the plans did not stop with taking money out of the pockets of students, by making us pay £9000 in fees. They are going much further.
For all the reforms of last year, with nearly every university setting their fees to £9000 pounds, the government didn’t create a market in higher education. Not creating a market means for a dogmatic neo-liberal, like David Willets the Minister of State for Universities and Science means that “the mission” was not accomplished.
We are now seeing an attack on the idea of public education for the public good. The government is setting out to create of a market in higher education. Already the government has announced that the first UK universities could be being run by a private equity firm in six months.
The hyper corporatised attitude of many UK universities is already a problem, attacks on the pay and conditions of education workers have made academia more unattractive than ever. The current pension cuts leave a new academic £369,000 worse off over their retirement and in return they will have to pay more over the course of their working lives.
This is not to mention the huge increase in executive pay, matching the private sectors which have become a very real burden on university finances, at my university the executive pay roll has expanded from £1.4 million to £14.7 million in a decade.
Yet private equity sharks who are lining up to run UK universities will make the current bunch of university executives seem benign.
The white paper will allow private providers the same protection and support through access to the public loans scheme. With this protection the government hopes that the private sector will set up new “low cost” higher education institutions. This combined with the loosening of what it takes to be “a university”, will allow the market they have always wanted to emerge. It creates an English Ivy League of elite institutions that only a few can access charging massive fees and “budget” universities for everyone else. It is a plan for truly destroying the remnants of social mobility in Britain.
By allowing private providers access to the same protection and support that public universities get in the loans system, we are essentially just giving money away to the rich. In public universities the government support for universities via loans is always ploughed back into the sector however the private sector in future will just be able to cream away this money in profit, with no benefit to the quality of education.
With new private universities planned to be set up all across the country, the question we need to ask is education compatible with the market? As universities are centres for public debate; the generation of new ideas and culture they need to be accountable to wider society. The private sector has shown time and time again can’t provide accountability, from News Corps’ phone hacking to Ernon’s corruption. How can we hope to have a dynamic democratic society when the bastions of debate, culture and ideas are handed to a corrupt few in the private sector?
It is not all bad news as a movement we are growing stronger.
This time last year nobody thought we could have a movement that was strong enough to articulate an alternative to tuition fees. We didn’t win but after occupations, sit-ins at the march on November 10th, we shifted public perception clearly in our favour and we built a movement that shook the government.
It was the spectacle of our sit-ins, walkouts, occupations and marches that brought the debate into the public sphere in a way that no one in power predicted. It is up to us, all of us, to fight back. These years are critical junctures for education in the UK, what happens now will define people’s lives for generations. If you’re someone who believes in equality, social mobility and access to education; if you don’t want to see an increasingly unequal society then now is not the time for apathy, despondency or procrastination.
Hopefully I’ll see you there.