An enormous discrepancy was revealed between the University of Birmingham’s “public narrative” on its finances and the private accounts actually used to run the university. Further it is setting up new streams for revenue in areas commonly thought of as non for profit services, exploiting childcare services amongst others. All this is being done without either the consent or knowledge of anyone at the university. This is a sector wide pattern; we’ve created monsters, universities that can act without any accountability, openness or democratic regulation.

The ability of universities to act in such a way is a seed long sown by New labour. Deregulated universities are turning the screws on their employees & students, providing less for public benefit and more for private interests.

The seeds of deregulation were laid by the ironically named “better regulation task force” established in 1997, which concluded that “universities have tended to increase the volume of prescriptive information in response the “accountability burden” on the institution as a whole (from HEFCE, QAA, research councils etc).” This view was then echoed by the government’s higher education regulation review group (HERRG) which published its first oxymoron based report “less regulated, more accountable” in 2005.

In 2006 the higher education funding council for England (HEFCE) signed up to the “Higher education concordat”. In this agreement it committed to a “less burdensome, more proportionate approach to quality assurance and data collection”. To implement this, a new chief executive of HECFE was “head hunted”; they choose the ambitious Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, David Eastwood. He is now the Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham who famously lobbied to remove the cap on fees entirely. According to David Eastwood he has never had to apply to any role or job since going to HECFE, he has become a point man for vicious deregulation and now privatisation.

The theory was that despite the lack of any real regulation by any government agency the information going out into the public domain would provide “accountability”. The recent exposure of the university’s manipulation and its creation of glossy public narrative on its finances show this theory to have failed completely and worse it has failed the most vulnerable. Without public regulation executive salaries have skyrocketed and personal expenses have become lavish, whilst normal university workers, academics and students have suffered continuing cuts to pay, pensions and their courses.

In this deregulated sector, what is now happening is universities are now providing an increasingly cheaper workforce & facilities to the myriad of private companies who utilise the universities employees’ knowledge and skills. Twined with the reforms that are forcing universities to research for needs of business rather than for public good, a robbery of universities is taking place from not just its students, workers, academics but also the general public.

We need to bring back democratic control of the UK’s universities. The regulation that our universities were under was not pernicious, under it our universities became the best in the world. Under regulations set by democratically elected governments not only did our universities flourish but also the welfare of its users and workers were respected.