The Assault on Universities in Stir magazine

Fighting for a different kind of university - students occupy the Sorbonne in 1968

Writing in the online magazine Stir, Nina Power reviews The Assault on Universities: a Manifesto for Resistance:

The Assault on Universities is the correct title for this collection of several short, sharp essays on the past, present and future of the university. What we have seen, not just under the current government, but for many years now, is an assault, part of a long-wave of attacks on the integrity, economic status and relative independence of the university that has caused terror, acquiescence, revulsion, opposition and anger in fairly equal measures among staff, current students and future students alike…

In a way, the writers here – a mixture of academics, students and activists, or all at once – perform the very thing that is in danger of being lost in the destruction of universities. That is to say, thoughtful, critical, synthetic and historical reflection. Neil Faulkner asks ‘What is a University For?’ while Jon Nixon asks us to re-imagine the Public Good; Michael Bailey discusses the academic’s relation to truth (via Foucault) while Natalie Fenton in ‘Impoverished Pedagogy, Privatised Practice’ points out that despite the corporate nature of the current university, ‘universities are still public institutions and their arts, humanities and social science departments are some of the last places that can challenge the principle that our lives can and should be ordered primarily by economic utility.’ These are the kinds of academics we needed all along – those who would have told the National Student Survey where to go; those who would, and still do, fight alongside their students; those who resist the marketisation and instrumentalisation of campuses, research and themselves.

But this important collection doesn’t just contain thoughtful and important work on what has been and what will be for those who care about the future of the university. The inclusion at the back of the ‘Manifesto for Resistance,’ which was circulated and signed by hundreds of academics and researchers at the end of 2010, gives focus to the implications that transpire from the sixteen essays and include concrete demands that UK public expenditure should at least match that of the EU average (Britain currently lags 0.7 to 1.1%), that fees be abolished, grants restored and funding for all subjects be reintroduced. But who will listen?

Visit Stir to read the review in full.

Stir also hosts an insightful discussion on The Assault on Universities with Nina, co-editor Michael Bailey and independent researcher Andrew McGettigan. The discussion covers the origins and purpose of the book, the commodification of education and strategies of resistance:

Michael Bailey: During the process of editing the essays, I happened to read the May Day Manifesto (1967) edited by Raymond Williams, Edward Thompson and Stuart Hall, and I was struck by the clarity with which they articulated a list of demands on the then Labour government. And I suggested to Des that we do something similar, so he drafted a series of demands aimed at both the coalition government and university Vice-Chancellors, and we decided to call it ‘A Manifesto for Higher Education’. We published the manifesto online and as an appendix in the book, and we’ve had over a thousand messages of support from colleagues and students all over the world. In terms of what we hope to achieve with the manifesto and whether it will have an actual impact, it’s too early to say. What I do know is that it puts public values and democratic criticism at the heart of what we ought to be discussing amongst ourselves as educationalists. I say this because the instrumentalisation of higher education has been long in the making and academics have been party complicit in going along with this: for example, we tend to be very individualistic when it comes to doing research and wanting to be recognised by our peers, and this can sometimes undermine professional collegiality. Also, higher education is very sectarian with research-intensive universities on the one hand and post-92 institutions on the other, and this can result in a complacency in those colleagues whose work conditions are relatively cushdy. But by far the worst development, in my opinion, has been the gradual rise of university managerialism and this McKinseyism doctrinaire. And it always amazes me that it’s often promoted by colleagues, and sometimes very aggressively, who were once ‘radicals’. It’s Malcolm Bradbury’s History Man writ large!

Visit Stir to read the discussion in full.

We are very excited to reveal that Andrew McGettigan will be publishing a book with Pluto looking in further detail at what is happening in Higher Education – watch this space!

There is also a podcast available here at Backdoor Broadcasting Company of the event held in November at Kingston University to discuss The Assault on Universities, including contributor Alberto Toscano, Claire Soloman and Peter Hallward.

The Assault on Universities

A Manifesto for Resistance

Edited by Michael Bailey and Des Freedman

Sharp essays take on the government’s agenda of university cuts and fee increases, and outline an alternative manifesto for higher education.

“The corporatising of universal education is one of the most insidious and dangerous attacks on the very notion of human rights. This book calls us to arms. Every student, every educator who cares should read it.” – John Pilger

“This is an essential book. The future of our universities is up for grabs and the manifesto will play a huge role in providing alternatives at a time when the government says there aren’t any.” – Clare Solomon, President of the University of London Union (ULU) 2010-11 and editor of Springtime (2011)

£14.99 only £13.00 on the Pluto site

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