I was struck by a reply David Willetts made to a student on Newsnight last Thursday. On the issue of funding he said “The money should come through the choices of students”. He repeated this towards the end, adding the word “informed” to “choices”. Willetts didn’t actually respond directly to any of the questions put to him, preferring instead to repeat the government message. Willetts’s remarks are an indication of how this government sees education: it is another commodity to be marketed and sold like loaves of sliced white bread. The fact that Willetts used market language when discussing education should ring alarm bells. Courses like humanities, social sciences and the arts will be scaled back to accommodate an expansion of the courses that the government wants to see more students taking. Business Studies, IT and related disciplines are seen as valid and therefore more worthy of support.
In July, Willetts announced the creation of the country’s second private university. This article says,
That university, offering Business and Law degrees, is run by BPP, a provider of various professional qualifications, listed on the Stock Exchange since 1986. In 2009, BPP became part of Apollo Global Inc. – a joint creation of Apollo Group, an Arizona-based company listed on the NASDAQ, and private equity firm Carlyle Group
The first private university was the University of Buckingham, an obedient Conservative supporting university that offers business, law, sciences, humanities (this includes education, journalism, history and politics) and medicine as its only subjects. Social sciences and the arts are noticeably absent from the prospectus. The whole aim of this move to create more private universities and to marketize the existing ones is to mould higher education according to the ideological contours of Tory thinking. Disciplines where critical thinking is a major component will disappear entirely. Heaven forbid that we should have a country where people can actually think for themselves! Yet this is a likely possible outcome of privatization. This education campaigner explains what happened in Chile,
Well, you’re talking about a very subtle repression in some ways. Most of the academics were appointed under military rule, they got to university that way and they reproduce the same kind of people in the academy. Academics tend to be very right wing and the student movement tends to be very left wing. The most obvious form of repression is police repression. Every student march will finish with water cannon, with a number of students in prison with batterings, students in hospital; it’s really bad on that point as well. Every student march is the same, loads of tear gas, loads of riot sticks, it’s always the same.
Part of the rationale behind Willetts’s proposals is to create an obedient student body; one that will learn by rote and will not ask awkward questions.
This move to privatize education doesn’t stop at universities, schools will also face privatization. In fact, in Hannan and Carswell’s book The Plan; Twelve Months to Renew Britain, there is a chapter on a privatized school system that appears to be based on the Chilean model. Christian Science Monitor reminds us of what happened in Chile. A voucher system would lead to a two-tier system that would have a deleterious effect on what remains of the state school system,
Additionally, “cream-skimming” by private schools affects the public schools performance in several ways. First, it drains the public schools of the best students,immediately affecting test scores negatively. Additionally, the group of students that stays in the public schools may perform worse because of negative peer effects. Second, the incentives faced by public schools to increase quality may be reduced since the remaining students are “locked in” and cannot exercise the exit option that would drive competition induced improvements
Free schools are only the start of the move towards a privatized educational system. The Hon Tobes’s West London Free School may have high profile support from Young himself and his collection of like-minded cronies but other free schools will be run by private companies as this Guardian article explains,
Privatisation is about to take a giant step forward. The coalition government has announced plans – first proposed in opposition by the Conservatives, but apparently accepted in their entirety by the Liberal Democrats – for academies and “free schools“, started by parents, teachers and voluntary groups and receiving, for each pupil recruited, what would be spent on that child in a state school. The vision the Conservatives sold to the public during the election campaign was of parents and public-spirited individuals running schools as they run baby and toddler groups, Scout groups and Rotary clubs. But it won’t be like that. DIY schools will need expert management help, and private companies are the obvious candidates to provide it.
It is clear that some free schools won’t be free; they will have to bend to the will of the companies that own them.
Yesterday, protesters in Exeter demonstrated outside a school that has been identified for privatization. West Exe Technology College is set to become an academy if the plans go ahead.
Education is a right and not a privilege.