Tag Archives: McEducation

Telegraph Comment of the Week (#21)

For the last couple of weeks I have been without the internet, hence the lack of blogs. Admittedly the last year has been a very busy time for me and I haven’t been able to update this blog as much as I’d have liked.

Anyway, this week’s comment was found on a Toby Young blog, in which he claims ‘free market capitalism beats socialism’. To support his assertion, Tobes flourishes a graph from the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (there is considerable overlap between AEI and The Project for the New American Century). Essentially, Tobes’s blog is nothing less than bitchy ramble and his graph proves nothing.

So let’s hear it for the free enterprise system. Next time you hear John Pilger on the Today programme lambasting the evils of capitalism, remember the above chart. It is tough-minded entrepreneurs motivated by a desire for profit that have lifted the world out of poverty, not bleeding-heart liberals.

‘Free enterprise’? Is he for real? For all his ‘libertarian’ rhetoric, Hon Tobes doesn’t much care for opposing points of view. Here he claims that the profit motive has ‘lifted the world out of poverty’ but he offers no more than a dodgy chart to support his view. He’ll have to do much better, but I know he is neither capable nor willing to do so.

Now for this week’s comment. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has claimed that anyone can teach; it’s a simple job that requires no professional training. This commenter seems to feel that supermarket chains are better than local authorities at running schools.

northumbrianmoron

This one repeats the stock line “leftist control of education”, which is much beloved of neo-cons and the self-styled ‘libertarians’ who fill  the Telegraph’s comments threads with inane drivel about markets and crypto-racist ejaculations. But how on earth could a supermarket chain like Tesco improve education standards? It can’t. Tesco is only interested in one thing: making profits. Education is not about making profit and even public schools are run as charities.  No matter how hard one tries to impose market ideas on education, they will always fail to provide, because the profit motive and pedagogy are in conflict with one another. As for a Tesco police force, I wonder if “northumbrianmariner” has ever seen Robocop? Probably not.

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My Coalition verdict: What a shower

The title of this blog is borrowed from a series of similar blog titles in yesterday’s  Torygraph.  As you’d expect, all of them heap praise on their Tory brethren and pour scorn on their Lib Dem coalition partners. None of them claim that the coalition is a “shower”, though clearly many of them wish the Tories had an unassailable majority. But we don’t always get what we want in life, do we? The coalition has been in place for one year and in that year, it has waged war on the poor, the unemployed, the low-waged, the disabled, students and anyone who does not fit into their vision of the perfect society. In fact the word “society” has been absent from their minds as they pursue an ideologically-driven agenda of cuts.

The way in which the coalition parties have used the excuse of the structural deficit to push through cuts has been dishonest. In fact, this coalition government finds it difficult to be consistent. First, it talks about the national debt, then it talks about budget and structural deficits and tries to erroneously compare these things – as Thatcher did – with household finances. They tell us that “Britain’s credit card is maxed out” . Rubbish. The country doesn’t have a “credit card” and it can still raise money on the international bond markets. In spite of what the Con-Dem government and their allies tell us, Britain is far from being broke. There is money in this country but it’s all concentrated in the hands of a small number of people.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of the public haven’t got a clue when it comes to deficits and debts and the government use this ignorance to their advantage. This dishonesty is reproduced by the Telegraph’s bloggers, who are all keen to impress upon us the need to accept reductions in public spending, which the government tries to present as either ‘localism’ or ’empowerment’.

If they want to talk about household finances, perhaps they could start dealing with stagnating wages and the ever-rising cost of living. Britain’s household debt is higher than it’s ever been, yet the government seems quite happy for this situation to continue. At the beginning of this year, the rate of VAT was increased from 17.5% to 20%, which has meant that many things have increased in price – including food which, although free of VAT, is subject to VAT through production and distribution costs.

Education has been area where the Tories have sought to make their mark.  While paying lip service to the idea of education for all, they’ve been pushing forward their divisive idea for free schools. Free schools, in spite of what their supporters and this government tells us, sucks funding away from existing schools.  In Further and Higher Education, they’ve caused the biggest stink by scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance and imposing swingeing cuts on universities, which has prompted many universities to raise their tuition fees to the higher level of £9,000 per annum. The curriculum is also about to be colonized by ideology.  The subject of history is going to be rewritten to serve the narrow interests of the state. The revisionist historian, Niall Ferguson has been asked to devise a new history syllabus that will focus on such things as the greatness of empire. In many of the post-1992 universities, arts, humanities and social science courses are being cut because they are seen to be ‘soft’. However the real reason for cutting social sciences and humanities courses is because they teach critical thinking. Say hello to “by-rote” learning.

The Tories have also been keen to misrepresent social housing in their efforts to claim that

  1. All social tenants are  ‘scroungers’
  2. Council housing is a drain on the nation’s finances
  3.  Social housing is “state” housing and
  4. It’s a form of welfare.

Their flagship councils, who have been emboldened by having their party in government, have each made attacks on council tenants.  Westminster City Council wants to raise tenants’ rents if their incomes increase. Hammersmith and Fulham Council have threatened West Kensington and the Gibbs Green estates with bulldozers as part of their ‘redevelopment’ plans for the area around the Earl’s Court complex. The Queen Caroline Estate in the Broadway ward has also been targeted. The word that is often used in conjunction with these plans is “vulnerable”. These two councils claim, as the government does, that social housing should be for the “most vulnerable”. So who qualifies as “vulnerable” and what happens to those people once they have ceased to be “vulnerable”? Will they be evicted after a couple of years?

Let’s look at another of the more common misrepresentations.  Early in their administration, the Tories claimed that there were millions lost through “widespread benefit overpayments”. It turned out that the numbers had been vastly inflated and the amount of money was only dwarfed by the amount lost to the exchequer through tax evasion and avoidance. While those of us on lower incomes have no choice but to pay tax, those people who earn the most find ways to wriggle out of paying it.

It’s time for a look at some of those Telegraph blogs. Here’s one from the Great Lord of Darkness that’s titled  “My Coalition verdict: Iain Duncan Smith scores high, Vince Cable scores low”

The once respected Vince Cable, now an object of derision, scores zero, while Ed Miliband gets 2 out of 10 and must work harder.

There’s only one problem: Miliband isn’t in the coalition, so why mention him?

Ed West also has a pop at Cable.

Biggest loser: Either of the two leading rattle-throwers, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, who are going to destroy their party because they overestimate the size of their political constituency. “Progressives” comprise a fairly small portion of the British public, and even within the Left are outnumbered by Blue Labour social conservatives and Jack Straw-style authoritarians. They could probably all fit inside Chris Huhne’s living rooms.

Super-Catholic, Cristina Odone can’t resist the sitting duck either.

Biggest Loser: Vince Cable. Energy Minister Chris Huhne may resign from government, but no one really liked him much in the first place. Vince, instead, was the nation’s darling for his purported knowledge of the economy (his book The Storm was a best seller), charmingly romantic Desert Island disc performance, and his fancy footwork on Strictly Come Dancing. Then he  blew it, boasting about his importance to the Coalition. He now looks like a foolish, self-important old man who seems as out of touch with his colleagues as with the public that once cherished him. Sad.

I won’t bother quoting the rest because they all plough the same dull furrow.

The coalition started badly. In the space of 15 days it suffered its first ministerial scandal and resignation when crypto-Tory, David Laws was forced to hand his portfolio to the equally worthless, Danny Alexander.  Today, Laws has been suspended from the Commons for breaching parliamentary rules. He won’t be returning to government any time soon.

The Telegraph says,

He is expected to be ordered to apologise to Parliament and pay back tens of thousands of pounds after an investigation that resulted from a Daily Telegraph report last year.

It is the most serious punishment imposed on any parliamentarian by fellow MPs following the expenses scandal and is likely to block any return to government for Mr Laws.

The Prime Minister had hoped that Mr Laws, who was popular among Conservatives as well as Liberal Democrats, would return to the cabinet soon, but this has now been ruled out.

Ironically it was the Telegraph that broke the Laws expenses story. For someone with a great deal of personal wealth, why did he feel the need to cheat the taxpayer out of over £40,000? One word: arrogance.

It’s hard to see how this coalition can last another 4 years when the Conservatives are trying to find ways to divorce their partners. The Tories’ allies,  the bloggers and commentators at the Torygraph,  spend a great deal of time sticking pins into their Lib Dem voodoo dolls. With these kinds of tensions, it is only a matter of time before the coalition collapses and in the aftermath of the Lib Dems drubbing in the English local elections and their obliteration in Scotland, this can’t come soon enough.

Paddy Power is offering the following odds on the year of the next general election:

2011                  7/2

2012                  5/2

2013                   10/3

2014                   5/1

2015 or later  6/4

Those look like pretty good odds.  I’m almost tempted to have a punt.

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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 – 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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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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