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Campaign for the Public University
Actualizado: fai 1 hora 1 min
The publication of the REF 2014 results and the trumpeting of ‘excellence’ and rank order position by the ‘winners’ should not be allowed to over-ride what is being lost in the reduction of scholarship and research to audit-able ‘outputs’ and ‘impacts’. Derek Sayer has written powerfully about its weaknesses as a ‘peer review’ system of evaluation, which is the means by which it claims legitimacy and invokes a collegiality it serves to undermine. For those who believe metricisation may be the answer, Ben Martin, Paul Nightingale and Ismael Rafols of the Science Policy Research Unit at University of Sussex provide a careful evaluation and dismantling of its promise in their submission to the HEFCE Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment. For his part, John Holmwood shows how metricisation is entering into the determination of University research strategies and the performance review of individual academics to deepen the deleterious effects identified by Sayer.
Time for the pips to squeak out!
After three years of £9000 tuition fees and income-contingent loans, the evidence is now showing that the Coalition’s neo-liberal experiment has failed: the cuts and subsequent attempts to bring market efficiency into higher education in England will cost the government more then the system it sought to replace. On top of this, the evidence concerning for-profit providers in the US points to inefficiencies, declining quality and huge student dropout rates.
Furthermore, the ideology of ‘no alternatives’ will not stand: in Germany strong student, union and political collaboration has overturned similar attempts to turn higher education into a market, and now all federal states have abolished tuition fees and re-established higher education as a public good, free for all (including international students).
The Failure of the ‘Great University Gamble’
The issue of the cost of loans that will be written off will become central to the debate in 2015 – the ‘gamble‘ of the reforms was that even after an estimated 30% of all loans are written off (after 30 years), the government would save £1billion for the reduction of the deficit. However, recent estimations, 3 years on, have revised this figure to 45%, ‘all but nullifying any savings to the public purse’. London Economics have predicted that if the write-off exceeds 48.6% then the cost of the reforms will exceed the cost of the system it replaced.
The government has already successfully sold off the pre-1998 mortgage style loans, accepting a loss of £140 million overall through subsidies paid to third parties (subsidiaries and consortiums of NatWest, Nationwide Building Society and Deutsche Bank AG). These subsidies were necessary in order to make the loans attractive to private interests – the whole problem centres on the management of risk. The government are prepared to lose money in order to get rid of the risk posed by loans.
However the government has so far failed to ‘sell’ the risk of the post-1998 income-contingent loans, despite many attempts to do so. According to Andrew McGettigan, there may be a fundamental flaw in the plans to sell off the ICR loans: a lack of history and datasets mean that investors are unable to price them with any confidence; any discount or subsidy to make the loan book attractive to investors would be so large (the loan book is growing by £10 billion a year) that it would no longer represent ‘value for money’ for the tax payer. Plus any attempt to sell just the low-risk loans (doctors or Oxbridge graduates perhaps) would leave the government with the majority of non-repayment risk, thus defeating the object of the sale.
This is why the recent suggestion by David Willetts, now ex-Universities Minister, that universities should be able to underwrite, or effectively buy, their own students’ loans is not a serious solution to the growing problem of un-paid loans for the economy. It would only be the richest universities that could afford the risk, and this would still leave the risk generated by the majority of loans from students attending other universities.
Breaking the Apathy: New Reasons for Anger and Hope
The success of the German Free Education Movement suggests the overall strategy for opposition to the reforms: a successful public movement must involve all parties working together: academics, higher education workers, unions and politicians. According to Howard Hotson, it was democracy that defeated tuition fees in Germany: ‘In Hesse, students protested en masse, a citizens’ initiative collected 70,000 signatures, and the ruling Christian Democratic Union party, fighting for re-election in 2008, reversed course in order to retain power’. An Alliance Against Tuition Fees was formed from 200 organisations, including students’ unions, trade unions and political parties, who pushed for a referendum and got a petition signed by 1.35 million voters.
We need a strong public movement to push Labour into promising more than merely a reduction in fees. Reducing them to £6000 pounds does nothing to solve the problem, it only exacerbates the situation (immediately undermining the ability of non-elite universities to compete now they have committed to £9000 fees). The £3000 difference is almost all loss for the government anyway, and yes this would reduce the burden on students, but Labour have no intention of reversing marketisation – Labour were the ones who introduced top-up fees in the first place – and they would still go ahead with the sale of the loan book. In the German case, due to growing public support for the protest movement, the Christian Democratic Party reversed course completely on the issue of tuition fees in order to get re-elected in 2008.
In the short term, the government might change the interest rates of the loans without consultation, increasing them to ‘market rates’. In addition, the income threshold for repayments can also be changed for existing loans, below the current level of £21,000, as has been proposed by a number of Think Tanks, such as Demos. They can do this because of a clause that appears in the Student Loans: A Guide to Terms and Conditions, which states that ‘you must agree to repay your loan in line with the regulations that apply at the time the repayments are due and as they are amended. The regulations may be replaced by later regulations’ (my emphasis). This would immediately generate more income from repayments, but the government shouldn’t be able to do this.
Current and ex-students need to be made aware that the government has the power to change the interest rates on existing loans without consultation. As McGettigan rightly says, ‘Borrowers should not face such a potential liability. Especially when we recall that student loans can be sold to third parties without consultation and without consent.’ This is one specific and controversial issue that academics, for example, can focus consciousness-raising and critique around, thus showing solidarity with students.
In the long-term, the government might attempt to abolish the write-offs of unpaid loans altogether, on the basis that it is ‘unfortunately’ unsustainable. As McGettigan warns, the real plan all along could have been to ‘sell a generous loan scheme to the public, Coalition partners and Parliament, only to make it far less generous when its lack of viability becomes apparent. In this way a scheme that would not have got approval in one go is achieved in two bounds’. This last point is correct and should give us hope (that there is a limit) – there is no way that the Coalition would have got a tuition fee system based on uncapped maximums and private loans, basically the US system, through parliament back in 2011.
The Long Revolution: Higher Education as a Market or a Public Good?
In 2012 Senator Tom Harkin released a report on an in-depth two-year investigation into 30 for-profit US universities (institutions that have shareholders who are able to extract profits from the institution, as opposed to private charitable institutions that cannot distribute profits in this way), which found that large numbers of students fail to gain any credentials, there is a 64% average drop-out rate at such institutions and there is often a relatively little amount of money spent on instruction – 22.4% on marketing and advertising, 19.4% on profit distributions and only 17.7% on instruction.
Furthermore, when we critically examine the statistics that go into the world rankings of university systems, the US higher education system was worse value for money in 2011 (just before the Coalition reforms) than the UK grant-funded system. According to Howard Hotson, the fact that the US regularly has more universities in the top world rankings is misleading – the US is much larger than the UK, and proportionally the UK universities in the top rankings are larger than their US counterparts. If we divide the number of top universities for each country by its population, the US drops to 14th place. If we then divide the number of universities by each country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the US stays at 14th. Worse than that, if we divide the number of universities by total spending on higher education for each country, the US drops to 16th out of 20. Using the same calculations, UK higher education rises to 3rd place overall. Even better, when we look at the value for public spending, the UK offers 50% better value than its nearest competitor.
Even though immediate action must centre around tuition fees, if we want free, public higher education in the UK, we must keep our eyes on both the government’s deeper marketisation agenda (which both the Coalition and Labour agree on) and work towards a economically viable and popular alternative. The evidence from the US (that the market doesn’t work) and Germany (that reforms can be over-turned) are powerful case studies in the ideological battle, a battle which academics need to get stuck into.
As McGettigan points out ‘the complexity of the schemes…is notorious: many politicians and commentators do not understand the system [let alone] academics, students and parents’.There are many critics who decry the loss of higher education as a public good, but I don’t think we have ever achieved this lofty ambition. Higher education in the UK has largely remained a positional good, which are ‘goods which act as a status symbols, signalling their owners’ high relative standing within society’. If we want higher education to be a public good, publicly funded and accessible to all, we need to make it that way.
The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement has served as a reminder of the wider politics of austerity and its beneficiaries in the form of tax cuts and those at its detriment experiencing wage freezes and cuts in services and benefits. It was also a reminder of how the reforms to higher education and the introduction of full fees is part of the same political programme. This point was not lost on the students who protested on Wed 3rd December. The sensitivity of universities to such protest is in inverse proportion to their willingness to debate the changing idea of the university. Increasingly, universities have sought to criminalise protest on campus while employing marketing techniques to protect their brand. The actions of police on the University of Warwick campus on Wednesday 3 December are symptomatic and cannot be allowed to pass without comment. A letter from current Warwick faculty and students is posted below. (If you wish to add your name, please do so using the comment boxes below.)
We are writing to express our serious concern at the incidents which occurred on Wednesday 3rd December in Senate House when 25 Warwick University students, staging a sit-in to protest against university tuition fees, were subject to what appears to be excessive police action.
As you are aware, a video, which was subsequently posted on YouTube, showed footage of students being grabbed and pushed and having their hair pulled, followed by CS spray being used at very close range. Also in the footage, a taser gun can be seen and heard, and there have been subsequent reports that it may have been discharged against one student. Three students were arrested.
According to reporting in the Coventry Telegraph, the police were called by university officials to attend the protest after a claim that a protester had attacked a member of staff. There is nothing in the video or other reporting to suggest that there was an imminent threat at the time of the police action, and their behaviour appears disproportionate and unacceptable. ACPO guidelines, for example, state that CS spray ‘should not be used at a distance of less than one metre unless the nature of the risk to the officer is such that this cannot be avoided’ – it is not at all clear from the video footage and reporting that there was such a risk. The students state that they had been sitting in a circle discussing free education and the university community and that they had not been informed that the police had been called and nor did the police, on arrival, tell them why they were there.
We call on the university to publically affirm its commitment to democratic values and the rights of students and staff to protest peacefully against policies and practices with which there is disagreement. The university is our common space and we protest in the strongest terms against the violations that were allowed to take place here today.
Prof Gurminder K Bhambra, Sociology
Dr Hannah Jones, Sociology
Prof Emma Mason, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Goldie Osuri, Sociology
Dr John Narayan, Sociology
Dr Khursheed Wadia, Centre for Lifelong Learning
Dr Solange Mouthaan, Law School
Dr Jonathan Skinner, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Claire Blencowe, Sociology
Dr Aditya Sarkar, History
Dr Maria do Mar Pereira, Sociology
Dr Cath Lambert, Sociology
Dr Michael Niblett, Centre for Caribbean Studies
Dr Chris Campbell, Centre for Caribbean Studies
Ruth Pearce, PhD candidate, Sociology
Dr Daniel Orrells, Classics
Dr Milija Gluhovic, Theatre Studies
Dr Mark Storey, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Stephen Ross, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Dr Helen Wheatley, Film and Television Studies
Dr Jose Arroyo, Film and Television Studies
Juanita Elias, PaIS
Dr Nick Lawrence, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Lauren Tooker, PhD candidate, PaIS
Dr Lena Rethel, PaIS
Dr Jimmy Donaghey, WBS
Dr Zakia Shiraz, PaIS
Lisa Tilley PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dr Maurice Stierl, PaIS
Prof Shaun Breslin, PaIS
Prof Shirin Rai, PaIS
María Eugenia Giraudo PhD Candidate, PaIS
Ali Saqer PhD Candidate, PaIS
Coraline Goron PhD Candidate, PaIS
Bahadir Celiktemur PhD Candidate, PaIS
Tobias Pforr, PaIS
Dr Lynne Pettinger, Sociology
Sean McDaniel PhD Candidate, PaIS
Jack Copley PhD Candidate, PaIS
Matt Kranke PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dr Marijn Nieuwenhuis, PaIS
Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly, IAS
Roberta Mulas PhD Candidate, PaIS
Davinia Hoggarth PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dženeta Karabegović PhD Candidate, PaIS
Nikita Shah PhD Candidate, PaIS
Tim Street PhD Candidate, PaIS
Ana Ines Salvi PhD Candidate, CAL
Dr Renske Doorenspleet, PaIS
Rachel Lewis PhD candidate, CAL
Dr David M. Webber, PaIS
Antonio Ribeiro Leite PhD Candidate, PaIS
Aya Nassar PhD Candidate, PaIS
Lorenzo Feltrin PhD Candidate, PaIS
David Yarrow PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dr Ronny Scholz, CAL
Martin Lammertsma, Assistant Registrar, Deputy Registrar Office
Thomas Greenaway, CAL
Dr Chris Clarke, PaIS
Dr Erzsebet Strausz, PaIS
Dr Richard Smith, CAL
Elisa Lopez Lucia PhD Candidate, PaIS
Javier Moreno Zacarés PhD Candidate, PaIS
Dr Julia Welland, PaIS
Dr Nathaniel Tkacz, CIM
Sam Hind PhD Candidate, CIM,
Ragnar Weilandt PhD Candidate PaIS
Te-Anne Robles, PaIS
Craig Gent, CIM
Kirsty Lohman, PhD candidate, Sociology
Prof Thomas Docherty, English and Comparative Literature
Dr Rashmi Varma, English and Comparative Literature
Prof Daniel Katz, English and Comparative Literature
Prof Neil Lazarus, English and Comparative Literature
Sam Burgum, PhD Candidate, Sociology
Dr Philip Kaisary, Law School
Jane Thakoordin, CLL
Prof Jackie Hodgson, Law School
Dr Sarah Hodges, History
Dr George Campbell Gosling, History
Dr Sam Adelman, Law
Lynn Wright, Academic Support Librarian
Prof Dennis Leech, Economics
Dr Charles Walton, History
Dr Celine Tan, Law
Prof Lorraine Talbot, Law
Paul Trimmer, Law
Anastasia Tataryn, Law
Prof Rebecca Earle, History
Dr Adam Slavny, Law
Dora Kostakopoulou, Law
Iyad Abou-Rabii , WMS
Jennifer Lander, Law
Katy Harsant, PhD candidate, Sociology
Dr Ben Richardson, PaIS
Dr Eileen John, Philosophy
Dr Illan rua Wall, Law
Benita Parry, Emeritus Professor
Dr Laura Schwartz, History
Dr. Myka Tucker-Abramson, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Carl Mallet, PhD candidate, Sociology
Dr Howard Chiang, History
Dr Jayan Nayar, Law
Dr Dwijen Rangnekar, Law
Dr Jonathan Davies, History
Warwick UCU Branch Committee
Dr Kimberley Brownlee, Law School
Prof Stuart Elden, PaIS
Nat Smiljanic, Law
Dr Paul Anderson, Law
Dr Graeme Macdonald, English and Comparative Literary Studies
Prof Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee, English and Comparative Literary Studies