Posted on Tue 08 Nov 2016 at 12:37 by Christopher Carter
For my first blog of the year, I’ve decided to go down the John Lennon route – albeit with slightly more of a dystopian slant than the former Beatle probably intended. Here goes…
Imagine an education system where universities are run as businesses, desperately competing against one another in order to secure the highest level of tuition fees possible. Rather than valuing you as autonomous, engaged and active learners, students are regarded as nothing more than ‘customers’ - in this alternative future, your worth will essentially be quantified in terms of how much you can line the pockets of your chosen uni.
Imagine an education system where, instead of focusing on collaborating with students to develop innovative, exciting and enriching teaching, academic staff are forced to chase unreliable measures of ‘quality’ by any means necessary - regardless of whether it’s in the best interests of students. In this system, the people whose wages your fees supposedly pay – the depersonalised ‘service’ you essentially ‘buy’ - are constantly being hindered by needless bureaucracy. Rather than concentrating on the job they are employed to do, teaching, they are instead locked in an endless chase for arbitrary ‘results’.
Imagine an education system where the state actively encourages the establishment of private Higher Education institutions whose primary aim is to turn a profit. Furthermore, imagine that these institutions will then be given the power to hand out degrees without any previous track record or commitment to education. In this system, everyone’s degree certificate immediately becomes devalued.
Imagine an education system where the pressure placed on students and staff is so immense that it has a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing and happiness. No longer is coming to university an opportunity to pursue new experiences, explore personal interests or meet new people –its sole function is to mould you to fit a rigid, narrow definition of “employability”. As intellectual curiosity becomes subservient to the demands of the labour market, from day one you will be crowbarred into the ruthless pursuit of an ever-diminishing set of internships, placements or “opportunities” – regardless of whether this is something you’re interested in or not.
Even the most rabid ideologue would be hard-pushed to argue that all this doesn’t paint a pretty terrible picture for the so-called “student experience”, right?
The horrifying truth is that this nightmarish vision could soon become a reality if the government successfully implements its proposed Higher Education reforms, which are currently making their way through the Parliamentary process.
Sadly, the marketisation of Higher Education is not a new phenomenon. Less than 20 years ago, attending university was free in the UK. Then tuition fees were introduced, tripled, and tripled again. Now, despite repeated assurances to the contrary, they’re set to rise even further beyond the previous £9,000 cap, with the potential to reach around £12,000 over the next decade. On average, UK students are now in greater debt than students in the USA, a country whose education system previously held the dubious distinction of being the developed world’s most expensive. “We’re #1!”
To add insult to injury, this government has proven intent on removing vital support for those who need it the most. As was demonstrated by the scrapping of maintenance grants for students from low-income backgrounds, as well as the axing of Nursing bursaries and the Disabled Students Allowance which acted as a lifeline for so many in the UK, their notion of ‘equality of opportunity’ functions only so far as it is allowed to ignore existing structural divisions.
It is difficult not to see this as part of a creeping elitist process intent on restoring Higher Education to the preserve of the wealthy. With the most vulnerable now assuming the most debt and opportunities diminishing across the board, millions of students are being forced to reassess whether they can even afford to attend university in the first instance. It should not, and does not, have to be this way.
However, I cannot stress enough how much of a pivotal moment in education we are facing right now. These HE reforms will fully entrench the notion that education is simply a profit-making tool, that universities should run in the interests of big business and that there should be no limits to the financial exploitation of students. If we don’t take action now, the Higher Education sector will be transformed into a permanent marketplace, with devastating consequences for academia, student-staff relations and access to education. That is the vision of this government.
However, there are tens of thousands of students and staff up and down the country who reject this vision emphatically, and who are willing to fight for a different model. That’s why Warwick SU will be joining the National Demonstration against attacks to education in London on November 19th - to unite together in protest and say NO to tuition fee rises, NO to cuts to student support, and NO to the privatisation of education.
We stand on the cusp of what could potentially be an irreversible disaster for Higher Education, and so we all now have a choice: sit back and passively succumb to this government’s dangerous vision, or take a stand and fight for an education system which is accessible to all. There are those who say that such a reversal is impossible – however, as has been proved time and again by the mass mobilisation of citizens around the world (not least in Germany, where students forced a complete U-turn on HE policy), it can be done.
Education is a right, not a privilege. For the sake of our own futures, our families and those of subsequent generations, it’s time to say “enough is enough”. Regardless of your own political persuasion, the sustained attack on students by successive governments in this country - so many members of whom benefited from an education they now seem hell-bent on removing - is not what any of us voted for. We have been lied to time and again, and those in power will continue doing so for as long as we let them get away with it.
We are students, not consumers. We are people, not functionaries. And while as individuals we may be one lone voice, together we are so much more powerful.
Join us on November 19th at the NUS National Demo – discounted return coach transport is available for just £5 here: https://www.warwicksu.com/ents/event/13970/