Tag 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 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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Postcards From the Barricades (Part 6)

I can only report on yesterday’s demonstration from the comfort of my home. I’ve been doing some work. Trying to catch up with a lot of stuff that I’ve been neglecting. Like organizing my notes. They’re in a real mess. I had the telly news on and was receiving updates from the #demo2010 and the #DAYX2 Twitter feeds for most of the day. I’ll be there for the next one. The above photograph came from here.  It was posted by a ‘concerned citizen’ who stormed “I hope the organisers are going to condemn this”.  Others piped in with the usual stuff ranging from “Marxists”  to “skagheads”. How imaginative.

This Tweeter who calls himself WatTyler_Thinks describes himself as,

Sceptical, angry, cynical young man, Libertarian, Rants in less than 140 characters

Okay, we get the picture. Wat Tyler as any kid will tell you was the leader of the Peasants Revolt. This guy isn’t a peasant and most certainly isn’t revolting – well not in the revolutionary sense at least. There seems to be no real historical connection with his namesake either. Here’s one of his tweets on #demo2010

Dear Marxists – have you realised the irony of you being in Trafalgar square, an imperial war memorial

Quelle drôle. But I’m willing to bet that he’s overlooked something here. Can you see what it is yet? In fact, he and a couple of others remarked on this ‘wonderful’ monument to British imperialism and demanded that the culprits be transported to the colonies. I always worry when I hear people talk about the Empire and who publicly lament its passing because I know that underneath this sentimentality there lies the beating heart of a fascist.

Television news channels looked very desperate and did all they could to inject some ‘excitement’ into their reportage. BBC News kept talking about the crowds playing “cat and mouse” with the police. Sky repeated the same line with the addition of “there have been several scuffles” adding words like “violence” whenever a bottle was smashed. Eventually the BBC abandoned its rolling coverage and concentrated on the snow. “Let’s go north to our reporter Fiona Trott who’s in Rothbury in Northumberland. What’s the snow like there, Fiona”?  Rothbury was where Raoul Moat was holed up before he shot himself. The villagers must have thought “Oh, no, not again”!

This morning there was nary a comment on the protests. BBC Breakfast opted to report on the arrests and the “vandalism” citing the graffiti that was left on Nelson’s Column. I didn’t bother with Sky this morning. BBC Breakfast is bad enough. Today’s newspapers talk about the 155 to 170 arrests (none of them seem to agree on the exact number) as though the protests had suddenly spilled over into the following day. The Bristol Evening Press led with the by now familiar “Non students to blame for trouble”. Apparently the police said,

“BE CAREFUL who you follow” – that is the warning to students from Avon and Somerset police, who said a second mass protest against university fees and spending cuts was disrupted by non-students who were intent on causing chaos.

Chief Inspector Mark Jackson “called for someone from the student body to come forward so they could better co-ordinate what he referred to as a “leaderless protest””. The CI added,

“I think that should be a warning to the students – be careful who you follow because the person you follow isn’t always genuine.”

Yesterday’s protest was set up via a group called Bristol Against Education Cuts, set up on social networking site Facebook.

The Evening Post contacted the group for a comment but had not received a reply last night.

Naturally the Chief Inspector failed to comment on the numbers of police who were seen without their ID numbers. Remind me again, who’s looking for trouble here?

This morning the bloggers at the Telegraph were noticeably quiet. Most unusual. I guess there was no violence to report. That didn’t stop Sky from trying to inject some into the reports.  I read one tweet from a Sky reporter who allege that “news crews were being attacked”.  It’s likely that if any news crew gets attacked it will be a Sky crew. Of course, no mention was made of this in the news bulletins.

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Postcards From the Barricades (Part 3): a look at what the Tory press is saying

Since the national student demo in London on Wednesday, the Tory press has waged a campaign of smears and disinformation.  The issue revolves around the use of the word “violence” and what it means. The BBC have led the way in insisting that there were “violent scenes” at Millbank Tower. Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman and Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine have all tried to claim that the intention of the students was to act in a violent manner.  Paxman’s questioning of Claire Solomon, who seems to have been identified as a sort of ‘ringleader’, took the line of a CPS prosecutor and thus was the interrogatory voice of the state. The attitude of the BBC’s anchors and reporters has been consistent with that of a state broadcaster – yet the bods at the Telegraph still have the gall to claim that the BBC  is “biased” towards  Tories, Europhobes and other right wing lunatics (remember the run up to the Iraq invasion or the Battle of Orgreave Colliery?).

The entire Tory press without exception has made the claim that the protest was violent and was hijacked by ‘outsiders’. Writing in the Telegraph, The Great Lord of Darkness said,

No doubt our Chinese friends had a pretty good laugh at the TV news showing our happy students in democratic Britain express their delight at their lot by trashing buildings and assaulting the police,

Here is the lie that students “assaulted” the police.  I was there, I saw no student assault a policeman/woman. I would demand evidence from Tebbitt but I know that it will not be forthcoming. Here we also have a clue into their thinking: property is more important that people or their needs. The police’s primary role in our capitalist society is to protect property from the masses.

Benedict Brogan, blogging for the same paper repeated the line about “violence”,

Westminster and the police have been caught on the hop by the size and violence of the demonstration currently battering the glass walls of Millbank tower, or specifically 30 Millbank, the lowrise part of the complex where CCHQ is based.

He continues,

Objects are being thrown, and there appears to be a separate confrontation going on inside the lobby. Heads are being cracked, and some of the more excitable demonstrators seem eager to take on the cops. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Aaron Porter, the leader of the NUS, was on the telly last week using fairly extreme language to warn that students would hound MPs in their constituencies.

Hang on, no heads were cracked. Furthermore, Aaron Porter made some pusillanimous statement about “condemning the actions of a small minority”. I guess our Benny didn’t see that. The truth sort of gets in the way of a good horror story. Brogan uses the occasion of the demonstrations to make a cheap swipe at the opposition,

the NUS and Labour have formed such a tight alliance on the issue: this protest is in effect a Labour protest, and however the NUS and Labour try to disown the riot, it is their show – it wouldn’t have happened without them.

Let me get this straight, this was a “Labour protest”? I saw no one from the Labour Party (though it is possible that some students had voted Labour) on the march yet Brogan has made the suggestion Labour being behind the demonstration and, by extension, the ‘violence’. His last paragraph is very telling and reveals the lies that the right wing press resort to,

UPDATE @10.15pm: Labour chums have chided me for being unfair and tendentious when I suggest that the riot was the NUS and Labour’s show. Of course I don’t mean that they orchestrated it or even willed it. But Labour has lined itself against this reform, it supported the march, Harriet Harman made a big number out of taunting Nick Clegg about tuition fees at PMQs, and the NUS is a Labour subsidiary and forcing house for Labour politicians. So when what was supposed to be a Labour supported demo designed to put political pressure on the Coalition ends up with the mess at Millbank, I reckon it’s fair to say that this is an awkward moment for Labour.

Again, he has no evidence to claim that this was a “Labour supported demo”, so he lies.

This blogger calls herself “CyberBoris”...guess who she supports? She chides those horrid lefty students and suggests to them that they  should have adopted Gandhi’s tactics,

Twitter is awash with students foaming at the mouth, in their illogical and ill-judged attempts to insist that peaceful protest does not work.  “Can anyone” squeaked @noldorstu “name a peaceful protest that achieved something?”  “Yes!” I tweeted back enthusiastically.  “Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March and his policy of peaceful protest that changed the history of India!”  I didn’t even go to uni, so possibly David Cameron might consider raising tuition fees to £18K.  These students are clearly ill informed and any investment in such a volatile risk is money down the pan!

Er, wait a minute, someone hasn’t actually read their history here and has plucked out a single event (probably from Dickie Attenborough’s film, Gandhi). Besides, peaceful protesters usually end up dead. She’s completely ignored the fact that Gandhi was assassinated (or that he was a raving anti-Semite). Here is my first comment,

Yes, the whole of India was transformed by partition and the violence that ensued in the aftermath. Nice bit of propaganda there. Of course, you wouldn’t find it ironic that ex-Bullingdon Club members condemn a group of students who smashed a couple of windows.

And hers,

The truth is not propoganda. It was the peaceful protest that made the difference, the violence was something else.

This argument about the Bullingdon Club is absolutely pathetic. There was no violence even remotely resembling the violence yesterday. They all just got pissed and chucked a few flower pots. You are utterly ridiculous to bring this up.

Even when they are confronted with the truth, they lie. The Bullingdon Club’s antics are legendary and have even been the subject of a Channel 4 film written by the Honourable Tobes. What I find so amusing about her reply is the way she says “The truth is not propoganda”.  She quite clearly understands neither. She refuses to acknowledge the antics of the Bullingdon Club nor does she want to do her own work.

Just not any good to produce unsubstantiated accusations against the Bullingdon Club. Where is your evidence that what they did was any more serious than a few smashed glasses, the odd window and some flower pots, caused by heavy drinking? “Accounts are legion?” That’s not evidence. Produce some evidence or withdraw your daft statement.

Pathetic. This is a classic example of Tory denial that goes well with their sense of entitlement.

Back to the Torygraph, Today’s edition says that a “Lawyer’s son was behind the student protests”. Fuck’s sake, what is it with these right wingers? The article says that,

History student Karl Sielman-Parry, who uses the alias “WorkersDreadnought”, said a “workers and students’ bloc” should band together rather than go along with the official National Union of Students’ march.

He distributed a leaflet stamped with the anarchist “A” symbol calling for “Direct Action!, Occupation!, Strike”.

I wonder where they get this information from? Well, it turns out that the Telegraph and the other Tory papers have been trawling Britain’s student population for snitches. This article tries to tell us that students aren’t in charge of their own thoughts and actions and have to rely on a group of outsiders to stir up trouble,

The Radical Workers’ and Students’ Bloc, identified by red and black flags flown from the roof of Millbank Tower, was organised by the Anarchist Federation, along with the London Solidarity Federation. The Leeds Class War group and the Whitechapel Anarchist Group also confirmed yesterday that they were involved in the trouble

The suggestion here is that students aren’t anarchists and anarchists aren’t students.

The right wing press have also tried to claim that lecturers from Goldmiths College condoned and supported violent behaviour. The Torygraph again,

But the lecturers from Goldsmiths made no reference to the injuries suffered by police and some students as they gave the protest a glowing report.

“Yesterday was a really good natured but equally angry demonstration against the damage that the coalition is doing to higher education,” their statement said.

“Yes, that got out of hand, but yes, it also got media attention across the world.”

With reportage like this,  you can understand why Andrew Gilligan writes for The Telegraph.

This Daily Mail article tells us that the student demonstrators were all privileged. They even have a ‘story’ from Tory Party chair, Saveeda Warsi who tells us,

What I find truly baffling is the number of Labour MPs who used Twitter to support those protesters committing criminal damage and endangering lives. Former Labour leadership candidate John McDonnell MP tweeted: ‘Just shows what can be done when people get angry. We must build on this.’ And Labour MP Alex Cunningham wrote: ‘Well done our students – thousands outside the office getting stuck into the Lib Dem/Tory government over tuition fees.’

Warsi repeats the lie that Labour were behind the occupation of Millbank Tower. Ah, nothing like a bit of black propaganda. She adds,

There is nothing fair about attacking innocent people or property. Political violence must never prevail over rational debate. So it’s high time we restored reason to the debate on student finance and fairness.

So it’s all about “property”? Who are these “innocent people” of whom she speaks? Her staff?

Over at The Spectator, Rod Liddle couldn’t resist making up a couple of porkies,

If you fancy a laugh, and have the time to spare, check out the websitefor REVOLUTION, aka Permanent Revolution, the Trot group some of whose members smashed up Conservative Central Office this week.

First, it’s anarchists who smashed the windows, now it’s a “Trot group”. Can’t these liars make up their minds? Evidently not.

Another national demonstration is being planned. I expect the police to be better prepared and I also expect more smears, lies and yellow journalism.

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Postcards From the Barricades (part 2): some pics

Here’s a better view of the protesters on the roof of Millbank Tower.

Not quite as snappy as  “Sous les pavés, la plage” or “Vivre sans temps mort”. But you get the idea.

Tory Pigs

Burn, baby, burn!

I must give a special mention to NUS president, Aaron Porter for his snivelling and cowardly attitude. A safe Labour seat is on its way to you.

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Postcards From The Barricades (Part 1)

Millbank Tower under occupation

Who says the spirit of 1968 is dead? I am on the joint NUS/UCU demo against the cuts today. I get off at Westminster Tube Station, walk past Peter Hitchens who is wheeling his bike towards the platforms. That was weird. I give him a punky sneer. I am in now in protest mode. I emerge into the daylight and  join what looks  like the head of the march on Whitehall. I take my camera out and proceed to take some pictures of placards. I then notice that the battery is dead. Typical. I haven’t used the bloody thing for months and the battery is dead. What is that all about? Now I have to use the mobile phone. Groan.

We head past Westminster Palace. I stop at College Green to see if there are any telly crews. There was no one that I recognized.How odd.  On past Thames House and MI5. Next, Millbank Tower. A really ugly building that was once home to Nu Labour is now the home of the Tories. Is that a coincidence? This looks interesting. There are loads of banners and placards and lots of noise. Then I notice that a fire has been started. People are heaping placards onto the fire. Yeah, this is beginning to look really good.

I squeeze myself as close to the entrance of Millbank Tower as I possibly can. It’s hard work. The large plate glass window to the left of the entrance is beginning to move. Suddenly objects ranging from eggs to placard sticks to stones being thrown at the window. A large crack appears. This is a laminated window. I move back a bit and notice that some cobbles on the driveway have been ripped up. The mood is angry. I move back a little more and spot some anarchists moving towards the building. They move like commandos.  This looks interesting.  I follow them but they melt into the crowd. Something is going to happen really soon.

I move around to the other side of the building. I can see Mike Sergeant filing a report by mobile phone to the BBC. I wonder if anyone has spotted him? I can already imagine how the BBC News Channel is reporting this. But no sign of Sky…yet. I peer through the side window and look into the foyer. I can see that an advance guard has occupied the foyer. There’s a woman student dancing about with a police cap on. It’s quite a funny sight. It’s almost like 1968 again. I can’t believe how unprepared the cops and the Tories are for this.

Millbank Tower is now completely under siege. I can see Tory party workers looking down on us. No change there then. Suddenly the crowd cheers. I look up to see the band of anarchists on the roof of the building. Their red and black flags fluttering in the chilly November breeze. There’s more pushing. More objects are being thrown. Finally, the sound of breaking glass. The window is finally smashed open. Protesters pour in.

I move back on to Millbank and study the scene. Then from my right, a column of riot police appear. They form a line across the driveway to prevent any more of us from surging forward. But it’s too little too late. I notice that one of the riot cops has a first aid cross on his helmet. Oh, the irony. I suspect that the police have a plan to ‘kettle’ the driveway. I walk towards the Tate and see even more protesters on their way to Millbank Tower.  I take the right past the Tate and the Chelsea School of Art and notice that they have a barbecue going. What style.

I’m home now. Watching the reports on the BBC News Channel. They’re trying to make the claim that a group of “hardcore activists hijacked the demonstration”. It’s as if to suggest that anarchists can’t be students and vice versa. Nonsense. Mike Sergeant is saying that “most of the students condemned the ‘violence'” and “they’re anarchists, they don’t reflect out views”. What tripe.  There was no violence. The media speaks with the master’s voice.

We aren’t going to go away. Get used to it.

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The end of upward social mobility?

Leaders from monarchs to presidents to prime ministers have all feared the latent power of the masses. There are two ways in which states deal with the masses: the first is to provide diversions, as the Romans did, offer them panem et circenses – bread and circuses. The second way is to oppress them and smash them when they stir from their slumber. This is the method that was chosen by the Emperor Justinian when he perceived the Nika Riots in 532 to be a threat to his regime. He sent his trusted general, Belisarius and the eunuch Narses to the Hippodrome to confront the mob which included some senators. Narses’s job was to divert the attention of the mob producing a bag of gold pieces while Belisarius charged in and massacred the lot of them.  Admittedly Justinian thought of leaving Constantinople but his wife, the Empress Theodora persuaded him to stay with these words,

“Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress”.

The third way is hardly mentioned and generally avoided by right wing parties: education.

Universal education was introduced in Britain in the middle of the 19th century for the purpose of preparing young people for the world of work. The extant public schools were founded with the intention of providing education for the poor of their area. The educational emphasis of the public school was based on classical models of pedagogy. The pupils who went to such schools were expected to go in to the clergy or the civil service. The working class were expected to stay in their place; the chance of upward mobility was remote and therefore the education they received was basic: reading, writing and arithmetic.

And so it remained until the 20th century when the Education Act of 1944 opened the doors of the country’s universities to the working classes. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, working class admissions to universities rose by 25%.

Those working class people who went to universities between the 1950’s and 1980’s will tell you what an experience it was. Many will also tell you that for the first time, they were exposed to new ideas,  some of those ideas would form the core of their political beliefs. Indeed many activists in the 1960’s were students who came from working class backgrounds. This no doubt alarmed the Conservatives who were concerned that the newly educated working classes now had the tools to take apart their arguments and press for greater social equality. Those students could also go on to educate others in ways that ran counter to the dominant ideology.

By the 1980’s, the Thatcher government embarked on a war against the working class. To curb them, she would first attack their institutions: the trade unions, seek to limit their access to higher education and try and buy them off with the dream of home and share-ownership.  She would also identify the National Union of Students as a hotbed of student activism; another form of resistance to her rule. Thatcher wanted membership of the NUS to be voluntary rather than automatic upon enrolment. The Conservatives openly attacked the NUS and used its Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) as a sort of column to counter them. The FCS was not affiliated to the NUS and received funding from the Freedom Assocation. Its members could often be seen wearing T-Shirts with the words “Hang Mandela” and many of its members were also members of The Monday Club.

I went to a polytechnic in the mid-1980’s. Polytechnics were introduced by Wilson’s Labour government in the 1960’s with the aim of providing vocational courses at tertiary level and thus put higher technical qualifications on a par with academic ones. I went to Newcastle upon Tyne Poly because I realized that I could not afford to throw more money away on audition fees to the various drama schools that I’d applied to. I figured that having a degree would be better than having a diploma from some drama school and I might even learn more at a poly than a drama school. I also thought (wrongly) that both my working class background and my American education would preclude me from going to a university. So Poly it was.

Towards the end of my undergraduate years, Thatcher announced wide-ranging ‘reforms’ to higher education one of which ended the maintenance grant that was paid to students and the other proposed that polytechnics could become universities that had the power to award heir own degrees. Enacted after her departure from office, The Further and Higher Education Act (1992) also meant that FE colleges were taken out of local authority control and were formed as individual corporations. These college-corporations would reduce adult education in order to get more ‘bums on seats which means more funding as a result (each enrolled student is equal to  a unit of funding).   The introduction of student loans had the effect of reducing numbers of working class entrants to university. The numbers further declined when Blair introduced tuition fees in 1998 and top up fees in 2004. This ended Labour’s commitment to a system of higher education that was open to all. This also ended any ideas of upward social mobility that working class people had.

The Blair government also went one step further: they placed universities under the aegis of the Department for Business Enterprise and Skills. This was a clear signal from the Blair government that it wanted to transform universities from places of learning to factories that produced workers for largely service sector-oriented jobs, as well as those in the financial sector.

Given the coalition government’s penchant for slashing anything that requires public funding, higher education is, in future, likely to be accessible only to those who have the money to pay for it. For all their talk of ‘fairness’ it is clear that this is nothing more than empty rhetoric. The government can introduce and presumably find the money to fund the so-called free schools but they are reluctant to provide access to higher education to those from poorer backgrounds. The free schools, incidentally, are likely to be run by private companies rather than pushy parents.

It is clear that the Tories have been opposed to the working classes gaining access to higher education. For them, education beyond the formative years must be paid for. They regard educated working class people as dangerous and subversive. This is the reason why the Bible was written in Latin until the 16th century and interpreted only by those who had knowledge of that language. Slaves in the US were forbidden to read and write and anyone caught instructing a slave could face harsh penalties. The reasons why were glaringly obvious.

For all their talk of freedom, the government seem intent on granting freedoms to their own class and denying it to those below them.

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Higher education: how the state sees things.

“What’s the point in education, if you have to pay for the privilege”? asked the Manic Street Preachers in their song, Socialist Serenade.  The neo-liberal plan for education is to make it inaccessible to those without the funds. It is even worse in postgraduate education where, if you can’t find the money to support yourself, you’re stuffed. There is little help available to postgraduate students bar research funding…and the competition for support is high.  Undergraduates can apply for hardship grants, as well as the Access for Learning Fund (AfL), they even have access to Student Loans.

If you are postgraduate student, regardless of how academically promising you are, you have to find the money to support yourself. The state believes that an undergraduate qualification is sufficient and anything beyond that is a luxury reserved for the middle and upper classes. Anyone else is simply shirking their duty to the national economy; they are not, as many right wing economists might put it, economically productive and deserve the same contempt reserved for the work-shy and  serial benefit claimants, who are the fodder of tabloid hate-stories.

The Education Reform Act (1989) forced students to take out loans (a product) by abolishing maintenance grants. They stopped students from claiming housing and social security benefits during the holidays which prompted many to abandon their courses. The New Labour Party under Tony Blair declared that more working class people would take up higher education. The reality is that currently there is little social mobility and working class students have decreased sharply. The average student debt at the end of one’s course is around £20,000 and it could be higher.

When this government announced its package of cuts – after spending billions on bailing out their chums in the banking sector- their sights were firmly fixed on HE. Their rationale appears to be predicated on the notion that such education is, as I mentioned before, a luxury. But what the government don’t realise or want to understand is that, if one looks at HE in purely economic terms then students are an investment.  Academics are also under threat; job cuts are expected to be announced  and many academics will leave this country for other shores. Is this really what the State wants? It seems that way.

I have just had to suspend my PhD studies because I was made redundant from a badly-paid job. I have no income and I am forced into doing something that I didn’t want to do. Now the dole queue awaits me and with it, a world of mind-numbing tedium.

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