The University, Limited.

The double assault of the Browne Report and Wednesday’s Comprehensive Spending Review have understandably led to despair and anger among academics in the humanities and social sciences. The reasons are manifold: the apparent belief by Cable and Willetts that only science matters, an insidious privatisation of public institutions, further debt for those least able to pay, massive cuts in teaching budgets, and education as a source of funds for bank bail-outs, not to mention rank hypocrisy from men educated for free and now pulling up the ladder while telling the rest of us that their schemes are not only fair, but progressive too.

This knot of anxiety deserves some dissection. The necessity, in the midst of a storm, for calm and sober reflection. Such is my rhetorical mode today. The main strand of existing critique centres on the implications for inequality. Higher fees, under such an account, can only increase the unwillingness of the poorest to attend universities, and so transform them into bastions of privilege.

But this isn’t quite right. Continue reading

The Nu-Bureaucratic Zombie Academy

Whither UK academia? Last month scientists blossomed with anger when Vince Cable, a man of advanced learning no less, wildly misrepresented the state of research excellence. Such a transparently false ’empirical’ case for cuts depends heavily on the trope of pointless, money-sucking academics [1], as if billions in state rescue packages had been precipitated by feckless spending on the Large Hadron Collider. Although social science and humanities is a sideshow [2], the claims are just as misleading for those of us working in politics, since 72% of the stuff we pump out is ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally recognised’.

The travesty of the RAE is what provides the commonsensical gloss for this redoubling of efforts to ‘magnitise’ investment, realise profit and ‘link to’ (read: subsidise) business. All of which conforms wonderfully to k-punk‘s diagnosis of capitalist realism, business ontology and nu-bureaucracy:

…the drive to assess the performance of workers and to measure forms of labour which, by their nature, are resistant to quantification, has inevitably required additional layers of management and bureaucracy. What we have is not a direct comparison of workers’ performance or output, but a comparison between the audited representation of that performance and output. Inevitably, a short-circuiting occurs, and work becomes geared towards the generation and massaging of representations rather than to the official goals of work itself. Continue reading