Chatting with the hatchet-man

I must apologize for the tardiness of this blog. But, as they say, better late than never. The Deputy Vice Chancellor, John Joughin, held a green paper discussion on Friday afternoon. The meeting wasn’t as well attended as I would have liked and there were plenty of empty seats in the lecture hall. I suspect, that once again, the message hadn’t gone out to the majority of students. Indeed, I only knew about it because I’d received an email on the rather poor UEL webmail service, where the fonts are 8 point – if that. If you are visually-impaired, reading emails must be a real nightmare.

As we arrive there are 2 security  guards on the door. Why? Is Joughin expecting trouble? Does he fear for his life? Is he being paranoid? FAQs are distributed to those of us who attended. My eye is immediately drawn to the words “market-based funding system, student expectations, industry requirements and Research Council priorities”. OK, but it’s that phrase “market-based funding system” that sticks in the mind. It comes directly from the mouth of Two-Brains Willetts.

Elsewhere on the FAQs it says “it is a myth that only HSS funding is being targeted by the Government”. I would dispute that statement and, as I point out in this blog, the Tories are very keen to choke off funding to the Humanities and Social Science because it does not regard these as ‘proper subjects’. In fact, as the Observer reports, HSS funding will be tied to so-called “Big Society” projects.

Under the revised principle, research bodies must work to the government’s national objectives, although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that ministers will not meddle in individual projects.

It is claimed the AHRC was told that research into the “big society” was non-negotiable if it wished to maintain its funding at £100m a year.

This reminds me of something that Gramsci said with regards to organic intellectuals and how they are usually suborned to the party – in this case it will be the Tory-led government. In this instance, we can see that any intellectual activity will be conscripted to serve the dominant cultural and political hegemony and any activity outside of that will be seen as ‘subversive’. Make no mistake, this ‘shake up’ is ideologically-motivated – regardless of what Two-Brains or any of the intellectual pygmies on the government benches thinks.

The discussion begins. It is moderated by Prof. Mohammad Dastbaz, the Dean of Computing Information Technology and Engineering, which, presumably, isn’t going to be targeted by the cuts. Joughin says that the consultation process has  been “an enjoyable experience”. We all laugh. These are either the words of a sadist or a masochist. I suspect it is the former.

Joughin, who seems less combative than at the previous meeting, announces that consultation period is to be extended by a week. How very generous of him. It still isn’t long enough. The floor is now open for discussion. Godwin Odusemi, makes a point that is not related to the discussion. He talks about voting and other matters. It’s not as if his school is under threat. After he makes his point he leaves with his mobile phone pressed to his ear. What a joker.

Tom raises an issue about the lack of communication. Joughin admits that this hasn’t been perfect and says that this will improve. Others put questions to him about redundancies and the worry that there will be fewer staff working longer hours. He doesn’t seem too concerned and bats these questions away with a “let’s wait and see”.  He then talks about “the national student survey” and issues such as contact time, which he attempts to link  to HSS. But this is a red herring. Social Sciences have always had fewer contact hours and for good reason: students are expected to spend a great deal of time in the library and doing field work. This is a point that is lost on Joughin.

There are 4 admin staff at the back who say “when we were showing new students around, you told us to keep quiet about the changes”. Hearing these words is like watching a torpedo hit a dreadnought at midships. The ship, explodes, lists and eventually sinks, with its bow still poking out from the water before it, too, disappears. Joughin does his best to refloat himself. He denies that he said those words, but the administrators are having none of it. Bravo!

The meeting ends with all of us feeling distinctly cheated but we resolve to fight on.

Another meeting has been called for Thursday at 6pm to accommodate those students with childcare and family commitments. I will try and be there but it will mean that I will likely get home at 10pm.  Friday is a very busy day for me .

Today, I saw a man checking names on lecturers’ doors and making notes about their hours. I can only guess why he is doing it and the thought fills me with dread.

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Filed under Cuts, Education, Education, Government & politics, Higher Education, London, social engineering, Society & culture

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