the university as “heritage industry”
The talk that I never quite gave but should have at the occupations would have been the one that directly discussed the issue that is most directly upsetting me about the current direction of the universities – mine, obviously, in particular, but lots of others in the UK too. It’s an issue that should be upsetting UK students too, though it’s something that perhaps the faculty can see more clearly at this point because we sit through endless departmental and extra-departmental meetings dealing with the issue.
Problem with this topic is that it’s very easy to misconstrue and to misconstrue in the very worst of terms. It is what we might call a Daily Mail bridge-issue. Because of this, let me just say that my ideal of the university would be one that admitted students from anywhere – anywhere in the world – regardless of ability to pay. I suppose according to merit, though sometimes I have complicated thoughts about this issue.
But the fact of the matter is that my university – like many others like it – is clearly and determinately attempting to shift its academic provision away from home students toward international students. While it seems very clear that home students will pay more under the new dispensation, they still, even at £9000 / annum, won’t cover costs. International students pay much more, and, from what I can tell, may soon pay significantly more than even the increasingly indebted home students. I really shouldn’t go into the exact details about how this is happening – in general, a turn from BA programmes attractive to UK undergraduates (and in many cases extremely difficult to get into) toward MA programmes attractive to Americans and other non-EU students is one of the clearest steps. There are other things – establishing interdisciplinary BA programmes that will directly draw down our single honours intake, not so tacit pressure to take PhD students from abroad etc.
Just to be clear: I don’t per se blame my university – or any university – for implementing these changes. We are in a funding crisis, and no one in this country has the sort of endowment to survive these changes by play through according to the old rules. I blame the coalition government – as well as the previous government, to an extent – for the current state of affairs and the necessity of implementing changes that, incrementally, seem to be bent on turning very good academic institutions into mediocre “heritage industry” semi-corporations, inevitably full of “MA Tourists” taking up the teaching time that used to be spent on brilliant and often enough very deserving undergraduates.
Like the student occupiers’ complaint about fees, this issue is extremely vivid – not at all an amorphous gripe about potential outcomes or vague political positions but an everyday reality of my life and those whom I work with and teach. Again, I wish I had gotten a chance to explain this at length at some point during the occupations. Let’s hope – or anticipate – that the opportunity will come again and soon in 2011.