Comprador Intellectuals in the Education Crisis

It certainly feels as if things are moving quickly in the fight over the thorough-going recomposition of UK higher education. The scale of occupation and student-led resistance has caught many by surprise. The interpretive battle over ‘violence’ may have performed familiar rituals, but the frequency and militancy of what is going on is new and invigorating. The number of occupations is now considerable, and the leadership of the NUS has been forced into support for tactics and strategy they had previously treated as marginalia. How different it looked in the immediate aftermath of the 10 November actions. The early denunciations of militant protest then seemed to foreshadow the enactment of a reformist middle ground. Aaron Porter gave at least one speech in which he appeared to accept that fees were going to be introduced as planned, and sought to move his energies into getting as much included in the £9,000 fee as possible. He mooted such bold objectives as an end to printing costs and a new universities watchdog to ensure value for money. As if to say, ‘we’ve made our point, now let’s go home’.

Last week’s much smaller protest, and its predictable, petty, kettle, seems to have made all the difference. More walk-outs are planned for today, and doubtless more occupations will follow. This has spooked Clegg to new levels of hysteria, warning that opposition to the cuts will themselves scare off the young, and the poor, and those without sufficient sense to make some back-of-the-envelope calculations as to their eventual debt burden. Obviously, this is true in a rather degraded sense of the word, since without sustained action directed at the proposals, many would not realise the scale of changes until they had already been passed. Verily, ignorance is bliss. Meanwhile, ermine-cloaked colleagues in the blue corner are reduced to crying traitor while the imperatives of civic order require ever more draconian shows of strength.

But where are the academics? Continue reading

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