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The Research Assessment Squeeze

Xov, 18/12/2014 - 17:14

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!

Categorías: Universidade

Tuition Fees and the Fight for Higher Education in 2015

Sáb, 06/12/2014 - 16:32

David Ridley

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.



Categorías: Universidade

The Further Criminalisation of Student Protest

Xov, 04/12/2014 - 14:09

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.)


Dear Registrar,

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

Robin Janssens

Alex Taylor

Anna Rivers

Carolin Debray

Billy Barrett

Grace Holme

Sophia Yacoub

Patrick Whelan

Ellice Stevens

Sean Okundaye

Edmond Phua

Alasdair Pidsley

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




Categorías: Universidade