Writing for Review 31, Tom Steele reviews The Assault on Universities: a Manifesto for Resistance by Michael Bailey and Des Freedman:
There is some good discussion here about how government policy has increasingly subordinated university independence to the ‘interests’ of the state. These interests, it seems, are less to do with the public good, as Jon Nixon argues, and much more to do with promoting competitive business – of course, the Tory-led coalition would say that this is the public good. Nixon shows how government policy and corporate pressure combine to redefine the public as one of ‘private interests’ rather than collective solidarity. The state, even the Tory state, is not declining as a force for intervention but shifting its perspective to maximise private competitiveness even if it works against ‘social’ security – which may, in the end, be what causes this neo-liberal version of the state to fail.
Steele imagines how the university system might be different:
Even if university intake fairly reflected the population as whole, how would this affect the ideological flavour of the university experience? There would certainly be a clearing of the air of private school assumptions of ownership but what about the demands of a neo-liberal economic system? With a much more socially varied intake, including mature workers, universities would look very different. More democratic forms of governance – some of which are suggested in this collection – should be introduced, returning collegiate responsibility and loosening corporate chains. That’s not to say ‘business’ should be excluded altogether, but it should be subjected to the ideals of university independence and democratic accountability.
Relations with government should also be reformed so that the block teaching grant is fully restored but with systems of accountability relating not to entrepreneurialism, as at present, but to ‘the public good’. This would be paid for by raising expenditure to the proportion enjoyed by most OECD countries from corporate taxes. We should also look closely at the Popular Universities of Latin America, where the links between university education and local communities are much richer and provide ways of socialising the benefits to the individual of higher education. Access to university resources, including staff expertise, by local communities and campaigning groups be opened up and made part of universities’ mission. Popular educational movements should be encouraged and funded in all localities (on the democratic model pioneered by the Workers’ Educational Association) and universities encouraged to establish outreach missions in which courses are given in the localities themselves.
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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)