Category Archives: Higher Education

As cuts begin to bite, many universities are resorting to the use of unpaid labour as teaching cover. Some universities have even offered unpaid research ‘internships’. For those embarking on a career in academic research, these are uncertain times. Recently the management of the University of East London has told postgraduate students that there will be no teaching work in the coming academic year. PhD students rely on this work to support them in their studies but also because it is an essential part of the PhD experience.

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UEL – lobbying the Board of Governors

Vice Chancellor, Patrick McGhee on his way to the Board of Governor's meeting

Yesterday we lobbied UEL’s Board of Governors ahead of their meeting. A group of  staff and students from the soon-to-be dismantled School of Social Sciences gathered outside the Knowledge Dock on the Docklands campus to let the Board know our feelings towards the proposed restructuring contained in the White Paper. As I have reported in a previous blog, the restructuring dismembering of the school falls into line with the Government’s objectives to limit the provision of arts, humanities and social sciences courses at post-1992 universities and to transform them into McEducation-style institutions that offer the same courses.

As you can see from the image, Prof. McGhee took the direct route into the Knowledge Dock and was lobbied by the protesters.  However while Mark Hannam, the board’s deputy chair was listening to our concerns, Prof. Joughin took the heaven-sent opportunity to sneak around the left flank of the group and creep into the building. He was carrying what appeared to be a very large file.

It was good of Mr Hannam to listen to our concerns but whether or not he and the rest of the board can act against the decisions of Joughin remains to be seen.

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UEL and UCLan – a tale of two universities and one management team

I have already blogged about the proposed dismantling of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of East London. The current management team of UEL was at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) before they descended on East London. It appears that they were also involved in a similar exercise there. Like he has done at UEL, John Joughin, allowed a short consultation period and the staff and students were given a ‘Hobson’s choice’.  I understand that Joughin also  cut the word “Humanities” from the name of one of the schools. I am told that the new School of Journalism, Media and Communication has lost much of its identity as well as its former Historical, Critical Studies and Humanities ethos. At UCLan, Sociology is now part of the School of Education. At UEL it will be part of the School of Law. You can see what’s happening here, subjects like Sociology will exist to serve education, law and order and crime detection.  The proposed title for the new school at UEL is to be the School of Creative and Digital Industries. Joughin insists that the word “humanities” will exist in the name of this new school. Does he seriously believe that he can cram all of those words into that School title?

If Joughin believes that we will accept his word that this proposal isn’t ideologically-driven, then he’s clearly either a very bad liar or a complete fool.

It is also interesting that Cambridge University has opened a School of Humanities and Social Sciences.  The timing could not be more perfect. I suspect that the government wants to see a more state-centred approach to HSS.  Looking at the web page I can see that there is no reference to Cultural Studies. Is it possible that this government, through the universities,  is trying to force Cultural Studies to serve specific needs or phase it out entirely? It is unlikely that research projects that examine or investigate popular culture will be funded in future because such things are not deemed to have any value in the collective mind of the Tory-led government.

I am told that UCLan hasn’t recovered from its evisceration at the hands of Joughin and McGhee. Voices that spoke out against the changes were marginalized and many of the professors who were against the changes were purged. The future does not bode well for UEL.

UPDATE: 4/4/11 @ 1236

Added more information to last paragraph

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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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UEL – under occupation

I received the following press release on Facebook

We the students of the University of East London have gone into occupation on UEL’s main campus at Docklands in response to senior management’s decision to savagely tear apart the Humanities and Social Sciences department of our university. The occupation was commenced after a symbolic ‘funeral’ for the department on the 22nd of March which was attended by more than 200 students. The procession left the central university square to deliver a wreath to John Joughin, UEL Deputy Vice Chancellor, who was not available to see us at the time. The group then sat down to discuss the situation and, after about an hour and a half over thirty people voted to occupy EB.G.14, a ground floor room in the Atrium, Docklands’ main building.

Officially, Friday is the end of the three week consultancy process, a timeframe which we feel amounts to little more than a slap in the face to students and staff concerned about the damage these changes could bring upon our university. This is why our highest priority demand is the extension of the consultation period to allow for us to effectively organise a resistance to the cuts as they have manifested in the attack on HSS. Ultimately our demands are that the HSS remain one cohesive school located entirely on Docklands campus, that students receive the degrees that they signed up for and that there be no lecturer or staff job losses now or in future. It is our fervent belief that education is the keystone upon which a free society is built and that the attacks on the sector represent nothing less than an attack on the very fabric of society itself.We will use our time in occupation to build support both for the national lecturer’s strike on the 24th, when we plan to be supporting our lecturers all day on their picket lines, and also the TUC demonstration on the 26th, which we feel could be a turning point not only in the struggle for education but also in the fight to resist austerity across all levels of society and present a clear and defiant challenge to the ConDem coalition

Today I also received the results of the pointless student survey. Here’s a taster.

When I had a meeting with the representative of the UEL in Lagos Nigeria in 2008, I was told about the facilities at the Dockland
campus, and how they will be most accessible because that was where my course of study is situated. Based on that, i decided to
study at this university. The offer of admission also stated that my course of study was going to be at this campus. I think it is a
breach of contract and quite unfair to suddenly toss me around and away from where I had built my time and comfort as it relates to
my study.

I really hope this student sues UEL if…what am I saying? When it goes ahead.

My comment was far too scathing and they don’t appear to have included it. I was offered an appointment to discuss the changes with the hatchet man. I declined, saying,

Dear Liz,
I don't see what good it will do. The closure of SHSS is a forgone conclusion. I also receive a bursary from HSS and if the school is closed, what happens to that? Prof Joughin said nothing about that. There is another issue, I don't have the money to keep traipsing back and forth to UEL from Hammersmith (it costs £7 a time). I am also forced to take work as a cycling instructor and I cannot afford to take time off work. I'm not sure that I have either the time or the patience to chat with Prof Joughin. He's made up his mind and SHSS is going to close. You can make an appointment by all means but, given his presentation on Monday, he won't want to hear what I have to say.
All the best,

Buddy

Two words spring to mind about this consultation: railroaded and shafted. The consultation was sneaked through under the cover of darkness. Students were only given three weeks to comment. The survey was an exercise in pointless number-crunching. Of course, no one was going to be happy with the changes. We could have told you that. So why bother? This is typical management behaviour.

Education is not a commodity.

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Next week at UEL

In light of the recent announcement of the closure of the University of East London’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences, two events are being planned for next week.

The first is a funeral service for the School’s demise. This is from my colleague, Jenny

The Funeral will be held at
13.30 Tuesday 22nd March 2011
Outside the East Building of the University of East London, Dockland’s Campus

Followed by a gathering of students and Staff for a one minute silence to mark the death of Humanities.

The second is a strike that has been called for Thursday, 24 March by the local branch of the UCU. I will be on the picket line.

No pasaran!

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University of East London to close School of Humanities and Social Sciences

UEL's Halls of Residence, which were built to resemble dockside mooring bollards

The Tories have always had an issue with academic  subjects that include critical thinking as a major component of their work. In the 1970’s and 1980’s it was Sociology.  In the 1990’s, it was Culture Studies.  More recently the Tories have attacked Media Studies.  These are seen as ‘soft subjects’ as opposed to the core or STEM subjects like Maths and Science on which Tory politicians, in particular, ascribe greater [ideological] value.  History has also come under assault from the Tories for being ‘left wing’ and ‘trendy’. In their book, The Plan – 12 Months to Renew Britain, Hannan and Carswell argue for the teaching of “proper history”. This is evidently shorthand for a narrower form of history teaching that concentrates on such things as the glory of Empire and the names of kings and queens.  Last year, the newly-appointed Education Secretary, Michael Gove, approached the revisionist and apologist historian, Niall Ferguson with a view to helping him write a new history syllabus. This was only the beginning.

In November the BBC reported that HSS at English universities will lose their teaching grants. Last week, I received a sudden email that alerted me to the fact that the University of East London was proposing to dismantle the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.  I am presently studying for my PhD in Cultural Studies with the SHSS. I am in my second year. The green paper proposing these changes was attached to the email. It does not make for happy reading.

A meeting was hastily convened in one of the teaching rooms on the ground floor of the East Building. As I walk into the room, I can hear the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and author of the Green Paper, Prof. John Joughin talk about “markets”, the Olympics and so on. This is not encouraging. His PowerPoint presentation outlining the changes is even less encouraging. It proposes that Culture Studies is placed within a newly-created School of Creative and Digital Industries. There is no mention of Humanities. As for Sociology and Psychosocial Studies, these are to be part of the School of Law and CASS School of Education respectively. You may ask what connection these subjects will have to their new schools. The answer is very little.

Joughin knows his management-speak but little else. For an academic, he seems entirely clueless about the important contribution made by our school. But, more worryingly, he conflates sociology with social work and social care and he conflates psycho-social studies with psychology. And this man calls himself an academic? He talks a lot about “duplication” but he does not elaborate on this. It seems to be his only rationale for making these changes. He is also fond of repeating the phrase “student experience” as if that’s supposed to convince us of his sincerity. But these are hollow words. His manner in dealing with the questions put to him is arrogant and confrontational. He’s clearly a manager and not an academic. He talks about this green paper being a “consultation”, but my experience of such exercises tells me that the conversation is only ever likely going to be one-way: his way.

Most of the points put to Joughin are met with a well-rehearsed “You’ll have to wait and see what’s going to happen”. There is an ominous ring to these words. His other stock reply is “Have you read the Green Paper”? When the answer is “Yes”. Nothing is offered but silence and more drivel about “courses remaining intact”.  He talks about the government’s wishes, at this point, another PhD student and I make the point that this is an ideologically-driven restructuring. Our eyes meet but he says nothing. Gotcha!

UEL’s management are content to chase markets, some of which will disappear after the Olympics. They seem to pin their hopes on this single event and on nothing else. There is no vision for the future. It is a ham-fisted attempt to dance to the government’s tune. The ‘restructuring’ has all the charm and finesse of an elephant on ice-skates.

Research Blogs has an interesting article here

My Masters supervisor knew that I was interested in pursuing cultural studies as an academic discipline and suggested UEL because it had an excellent reputation for cultural research. Indeed, it has largely filled the void left by the closure of Birmingham University’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (often referred to simply as The Birmingham School) in 2002. The Birmingham School had faced considerable opposition from the Thatcher and Major governments

There is a culture of anti-intellectualism at the heart of contemporary British politics that refuses to acknowledge academic work that asks questions about society; a tendency that they regard as dangerous and subversive. Instead, we find that these politicians only see universities in one way: as factories producing graduates for the service industries.

David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, wants universities to offer the same courses in a sort of  McEducation style chain of institutions

In a speech at Oxford Brookes University, Willetts said his proposals would allow students to take prestigious courses, but save on the expense of living away from home by studying at a local university or college. He added that if institutions were freed from having to set their own degree programmes, they could focus on giving students excellent teaching.

This is not higher education as we know it. Willetts, whose soubriquet is “Two Brains” for his policy heavy background, high hairline and his close association with think tanks, sees education as a marketable commodity.

Willetts said: “It has generally been assumed that any home-grown institution offering higher education must award its own degrees. But I am interested in looking at whether some could benefit from linking themselves to an established exam brand with global recognition.”

Willetts has an estimated wealth of £1.9m. He knows the value of money but not the value of an education – priceless.

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