Against the commodification of education – Adam Morton on the struggle for the public university

Quebec students protest

Writing on his excellent new blog For the Desk Drawer, Adam Morton, author of Unravelling Gramsci: Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Political Economy, considers the state of the struggle over Higher Education reform. He notes the emergence of important student struggles across the world:

Globally, a battle is being waged against students, academics, and the public service of education. In Canada, the premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, has announced that university tuition fees should be raised over the next five years leading to an increase of 60 percent sparking wide student protests. In Chile, across 2011 to 2012, massive student-led protests have sought more direct state participation in secondary education as well as an end to the existence of profit in higher education. After all, student tuition fees in the country account for 80 percent of spending on higher education and the protests have ‘presided over the biggest citizen democracy movement since the days of opposition marches to General Augusto Pinochet a generation ago’, according to the Guardian. In Australia, despite the University of Sydney recording a substantial surplus, management have proposed job cuts of up to 340 staff members. In 2012 the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) launched a campaign calling for management to rescind the planned cuts and to “invest in staff, not stones”.

Adam argues that UK trade unions need to put forward a positive vision of the public university, as well as fighting against current reforms:

Within universities in the UK, the trade union experience in many institutions is that management informs the union with neither a consultation of the union’s views on these developments nor an attempt to negotiate over these changes. Ultimately, this is down to the way power is distributed within institutions. As long as local associations fail to mobilise their members more successfully, to balance the power of management, the latter do not have to pay attention to the views of their workforce. Yet, even if a union was invited to negotiate changes, these negotiations would mainly focus on the shape of restructuring, not on how to do it differently. In order to achieve the latter, trade unions need to set the overall frame of reference. Demonstrations, strikes and negotiations with management are all necessary and important, but on their own they are not enough. Unions need a clear vision of what an alternative to the marketisation of education could look like. The formulation of what such an alternative vision might resemble was one of the objectives of the ‘For a Public University’ workshop.

Visit For the Desk Drawer to read the post in full.

For an accessible and inspiring primer on the struggle against the UK governments Higher Education reforms and what the public university might look like in the twenty-first century, read The Assault on Universities: a Manifesto for Resistance, edited by Michael Bailey and Des Freedman.

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

Unravelling Gramsci

Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Political Economy

Adam David Morton

Examines Gramsci’s understanding of hegemony within the context of uneven development and its links to the global political economy.

“A powerful and clarifying argument for why Antonio Gramsci’s theorising of uneven development has major uses that can only be adequately understood in application rather than in terms of textual exegesis. The book’s combination of careful argument and cogent illustration will make this a landmark volume in Gramscian studies.” – John Agnew, UCLA (author of Hegemony: The New Shape of Global Power, 2005).

“Giving prominence to the often neglected concept of passive revolution, and engaging with debates about uneven development and the relationship between national and international perspectives, Adam Morton draws upon an impressive knowledge of Antonio Gramsci’s writings to provide new insights into key processes in today’s world order.” – Anne Showstack Sassoon, Emeritus Professor of Politics, Kingston University and Visiting Professor of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London

£25.99 only £23.39 on the Pluto site

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