While the issue of student fees has dominated the debate on today’s parliamentary proceedings, there are bigger things at stake: the basic principle of public funding for higher education itself, and the question of whether we, as a society, value the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences in any terms other than the crudely economic. This piece by Stefan Collini sums things up for me.

23 thoughts on “today

  1. Thanks for sharing this article. How can it be in the public interest to withdraw state funding from the teaching of all but science, technology and a few ‘strategically important’ languages at university level?

    Collini’s article was printed out and stuck on the wall of the room occupied by UCL students, alongside many other posters (I wasn’t part of it, just visited briefly to show support).

    The fees motion has passed and that occupation has finished, but the solidarity and energy in that room made a deep impression on many people. It was very far removed from the scenes of violence the media has been focusing on. Take heart from the fact that there is widespread resistance to what’s being proposed, and people are getting organised.


  2. Thank you for the link. It made the situation much clearer for those of us who live elsewhere. Here the news is reporting the change as simply higher fees. The larger picture is most welcome.


  3. Thanks for the link. I took two degrees in English Literature just because I loved the subject so much. (I paid my way through the MA using part of a divorce settlement). I started a PhD as I hoped, one day, to teach at tertiary level. But I found that a soul-destroying experience and realised that the publish-or-be-damned culture was not for me. I abandoned the research and (after a couple of detours) am now thoroughly enjoying life as a bookseller in a shop where everyone either has at least a first degree, or is studying for one. Good old “graduate jobs”…


  4. Oh, 100% agree.
    “no longer think of higher education as the provision of a public good, articulated through educational judgment and largely financed by public funds (in recent years supplemented by a relatively small fee element). Instead, we should think of it as a lightly regulated market in which consumer demand, in the form of student choice, is sovereign ”
    Because giving the market its head has worked so well in other areas…and I’m sure I knew what I wanted to do with my life when I was 18.
    I also very much like his point regarding vocational qualifications. The creation of the two-tier university system in the ’90s has done nothing but turn academic degrees into work credentials, as well as ruin very good FE colleges, as they try to ape older universities. It also introduced the extremely elitist concept of “you are nothing without a (whatever) degree”for non-academic subjects, managing to devalue people who worked with their head, or their hands, or both, all together.


  5. It is dispiriting to see this happening, whether in the UK or Australia. What annoys me, enrages me, is when university managers and/or their vice-chancellors accept the terms of debate and thereby signal their capitulation. The ones we may look to for reasoned and impassioned defence of public and liberal education seem incapable or unwilling to do so.


  6. Gorgeous snow pictures on previous post. Just wanted to comment about the nausea=brain leap idea. When my daughters were little, right before they made a developmental jump/growth, they would regress first, which was weird until I made the connection between the two events. I’d say you were spot on with your connection. Glad all is so much better with you!


  7. Having just completed my 10th year at a university, I should have a profound comment to add. But after what has happened today I find my eloquence dwindling. So here it goes:

    Bunch of short-sighted idiots.


  8. Thank you for the link. I’m passing it on to friends and colleagues with whom I’ve had conversations about just these issues. It’s incredibly frustrating to know that your work is being ‘surveyed’ by students who themselves often complain that surveys don’t allow them to express what they really think about a course. There’s the rub. I don’t think the students are happy with having this power as ‘consumers’. They aren’t educated about the power they’re increasing wielding (the use of ‘educated’ here may be ironic). Although, I did feel a little cross about the reference to younger academics and their dedication to teaching. Often times, younger academics are prevented from putting time and effort into teaching by academics higher up the chain who place restrictions on contact hours and enforce higher class numbers, while simultaneously increasing administrative loads and penalties if we don’t publish. Oh, it makes you just want to curl up and knit something!


  9. I appreciate Collini’s analysis of Browne et al, but too little, too late? (See Indy ca. 1994 below. The author? None other than the current chairman of the shiny, new LibTory ‘Office of Budget Responsibility’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/economics-time-the-campus-went-to-market-1383534.html).

    A generation of politicians and intellectuals failed to stop this free-market-as-religion mystery cult. On the contrary, they joyfully joined it, as the price of entry to the nomeklatura.

    Which is why that *other Brown* and *his gamble* with the power of the City is perhaps more significant.

    In 1999, when Chancellor Brown sold off the Student Loans Company portfolio (to be securitised, natch, by Deutchebanke and National Building Society), the government received £1 billion. Less annual fees (dotcha just love PFIs?!), it worked out to around 77% of their face value. An even bigger batch was to be sold in 2007 (I’m still not clear what happened with it. Perhaps it requires a Bloomberg terminal.)

    It’s like giving a drunk booze. Only deducted directly from your wages.

    With fees set to…erm, nonuple…what riches shall the government dole out to those poor, struggling City firms, this time? Will it be equal to the teaching grants cuts? Or will traditional Tory policies prevail and the whole SLC will be offloaded to their mates for a pittance? And facing deep cuts, will universities turn to that same financial industry to ‘tide them over’ with lines of credit and the like?

    It’s nothing really to do with ideas about education.
    The City’s gone tits up. Therefore the bones of society must be cracked open and the marrow spoonfeed to them until they are well again. Whose marrow?
    Cue class war.


  10. Being a teacher myself and with 3 children 18, 16 and 13 years of age I am horrified at the thought of them being saddled with that amount of debt at the start of their adult lives. There is no guarantee that they will get ‘good’ jobs anymore and they could be paying it all back for most of their lives because higher interest will be charged on their loans, that is an inevitability. Our eldest wants to do social work, and the second IT/business at university. We are of modest means, live in a flat and own one car: we will manage to enable them to pursue their dreams – you should dream at their age -but the sacrifice will be great. Will our universities be for the wealthy and oversees students? How will our future be managed as a country due to this decision now?


  11. I work in HE, in careers. The commodification of degrees is very evident in the discourse around the employability of students and the presumed responsibility of the HEI for the future of their students in the labour market. Universities are increasingly judged on the employment stats of their graduates, particularly by potential students and their parents. It is disheartening to have students ‘admit’ shamefacedly that they chose their degree subject because they loved it or wanted to learn more, rather than for the employment prospects it opened up.

    The imposed homogeneity of degree level education has led to a narrowing of offering, where there is a presumption that ‘one size fits all’, and the diversity of purpose and approach to study has suffered as a result. Browne’s underlying premise, the divorce of public funding from higher education, will contribute to this decline in what was a richly varied and key contributor to citizenship, culture, science and the economy by leaving it dependent on market forces.


    1. I think it’s ironic that back in the fifties when my parents decided on taking vocational qualifications (physiotherapy, building engineering), they didn’t need to go to university at all. They spent most of their time in the work place and training was paid for by the future employer. Even today, somebody with a ‘vocational’ degree in something like law or accountancy still needs to find a training place and you don’t need a law or accountancy degree to become a lawyer or an accountant.

      In fact, many professional bodies still provide training schemes that will take somebody from post-GCSE to fully qualified, post degree level, all paid for by industry.

      I’m not sure that the rather exclusive university system of the fifties was any better, but I think successive governments have dug themselves into holes by equating going to university with training for work.


  12. As an American, I understand the frustration that this issue poses….but how I wish I had paid so little! I know, I know, completely different systems…..but my wallet (which has another 15 years, at least, of paying off student loans) is a wee bit jealous.

    I hope you don’t end up with the massive loans we get over here!


    1. There is also the link between the higher education becoming more of a commodity and the rise of plagiarism. In the US, more and more students are told you need a college degree to get a job. In my opinion, to these students college is more about buying a credential than learning. Therefore, paying for a paper online or borrowing one from a friend doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s not so much a violation of honor but just the means to the end. Just something you would do in the business world to close the deal or make the sale. My father was a professor for the past thirty years and had seen a rise in plagiarism especially with the advent of the internet. He was spending more and more of his time at the end tracking down cheaters.


  13. I also love that piece! I’m a biologist but I totally agree. The Browne report has completely missed the point as to the purpose of universities.

    It’s akin to environmental economics-the value of the biodiversity in a rainforest (which has much use to man in its ecosystem services) is not incorporated into our current market system. Its hard to value a forest in real money terms. Its easier to value a piece of wood. Similarly its hard to value the benefits to a university and the benefits of a good education in monetary terms. Reducing things to valuing only what salary graduates achieve will not benefit society. It will stifle innovation, creativity and ideas. This can only damage our economy in the long term.

    And most of all it is sad to reduce students to having to make decisions based on money rather than what engages them most.

    I’m disgusted to be british right now.


  14. Grrrr and double grrr. Can you hear my teeth gnashing?

    How much worse is the tendency to an instrumental view of higher education going to get? Some students already see themselves as consumers who have a right – because they are paying for it – to get a degree regardless of the effort they put in.

    And, I wont start on the potential consequences of not funding social sciences – social work, probation, town planning, architecture, housing – what will happen to public services when we run out of suitably educated people to do these jobs?



  15. PS: When I went on the major student demo in London on 10th November, I spied one placard saying ‘Knitters against Cuts’. Good, eh?!


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