Arab Today, arab today higher education reforms anger is growing
Last Updated : GMT 07:01:29
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Higher education reforms: anger is growing

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Higher education reforms: anger is growing

London - Arabstoday

With most reforms, even the most controversial and contested, there finally comes a time for acceptance. But that time has not yet come for the government\'s plans to slash public funding and triple fees in higher education. University managers have had no choice but to prepare for next September, setting fee levels and, for more than 20 institutions, re-setting them to come under the £7,500 threshold that allows them to reclaim some of the student places they have lost. But the anger is not abating. Students, of course, have been supremely ungrateful from day one despite being placed at \"the heart of the system\" (to quote the white paper\'s title), although police tactics have curbed street protests. Now large sections of the academic community – from young researchers and lecturers to the stars of the profession – are finally waking up to the challenge posed by the government\'s reforms. There have been three responses. The first is that there is no alternative. Labour started down the track of higher fees; the coalition is simply following. The state won\'t pay, so students must. Public expenditure has to be cut to reduce the deficit. Luckily, back-doors public funding via state loans to pay these higher fees can compensate higher education. The second is that the initial proposals were unworkable. So what started out as privatisation is beginning to look more like nationalisation. Not only has the government frozen student numbers, it is now telling universities which categories of student they can freely admit. Far from fading into history, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) is now to be the \"lead\" regulator. The third is to regard the government\'s reforms as heralding the death of the university as a public and liberal institution. Key academic values are under attack, whether scholarship in the humanities or curiosity-driven science. So are key social values such as widening participation. The first response has come from a largely craven university establishment. As a result, vice-chancellors risk joining bankers as objects of public disdain – even if their salaries are somewhat lower. The second response, interestingly, has come from the policy establishment, although those who work for Hefce and other agencies have been forced to use coded language to express their criticisms of government policy. It is the third response that seems to be gathering force. No longer confined to the \"usual suspects\" such as the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, it is gradually becoming established as the dominant response among the academic rank-and-file and high-profile public intellectuals. Not so long ago, the much-despised \"chattering classes\" shared the politicians\' low opinion of universities; now they are rallying to their defence. The reasons for this deeply significant shift are various. One is the growing unpopularity of a government that, more clearly every day, has made a disastrously wrong call on the economy. A second is that people are beginning to join things up. Grimly, the fates of higher education and of the national health service are now seen as linked. Both are grand 20th-century social projects under neo-liberal fire. A third, of course, is that the government\'s reforms are now better understood. Paradoxically, the more they unravel as workable solutions to the challenges facing universities in the post-crunch era, the more their ideological foundations are exposed. It is the illiberality and philistinism, reductionism and instrumentalism, which so offend the silent majority with higher aspirations and nobler ideals. As a result, the contest is moving on to new ground. Very few people now expect these arrangements to produce an enduring settlement. In just over a year, the original proposals of the Browne committee have already been modified almost to death. Lots more \"adjustments\" are likely, sooner rather than later. But it is the government\'s ideological assault on academic values, and its indifference to the social consequences of its policies, that have provoked the growing anger. Those who are attached to old academic habits and those who care deeply about higher education\'s social purpose have joined together in a strengthening opposition. At a recent conference, the distinguished historian Keith Thomas called for the creation of a \"society for the protection of English universities\". The fact that such an organisation is now thought to be necessary shows how much the ground is shifting.  

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