Browne and the CSR: it is time for Plan B (part 1)

October 28, 2010

Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, says that implementing the Browne Review will see our world-class university system through a funding "valley of death" ("The sum of our worst fears: UUK chief says prepare for cuts of £4.2bn", www.timeshighereducation.co.uk, 15 October). Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, says there is no conceivable Plan B. This "backs to the wall" rhetoric betrays an intellectually bankrupt position. The extremely serious question of the long-term sustainability of university and student finance has been hijacked by the short-term political interests of emergency debt reduction.

The review is flawed in at least four key respects.

First, it proposes to load future generations with unacceptable levels of debt.

Second, it riskily assumes that high fees will not affect participation in the academy.

Third, despite the rhetoric of choice and freedom, it reimposes state control in a number of coercive ways (for example, by insisting that entitlement to student finance be "determined by a minimum entry standard" of Universities and Colleges Admissions Service points, determined by the state each year for each discipline - a direct attack on university autonomy).

Fourth, the proposal for a 100 per cent reduction in the teaching grant for the "non-priority" subjects of the arts, humanities and social sciences is a disaster for the intellectual, economic and cultural life of the UK.

The real alternative to Browne is for all UK vice-chancellors to lobby as effectively for our sector as the bank chief executives have for theirs. They should drop the divisive myth of "mission groups" and express their resolute opposition to Browne in order to defend the very idea of the university.

They should express their commitment to public education; they should make the case for the arts, humanities and social sciences as they have for the sciences; and they should defend the principle of affordable access.

To accept the implementation of Browne without dissent would be to sell out the future of generations of students that we, as the custodians of the university, are bound to protect. It would also mean abandoning entire fields of knowledge.

Far from there being no conceivable Plan B, there is much to be fought for between now and the production of the coalition's White Paper on higher education. We urge all academic staff to contribute to the National Union of Students/University and College Union demonstration in London on 10 November.

Martin McQuillan, dean of arts and social sciences, Kingston University; Sara Ahmed, professor in race and cultural studies, Goldsmiths, University of London; Graham Allen, professor of modern English, University College Cork; Derek Attridge, professor of English, University of York; Stephen Barker, professor of drama, University of California, Irvine; Christopher Baugh, emeritus professor of performance and technology, University of Leeds; Andrew Benjamin, professor of critical theory and philosophical aesthetics, Monash University; Fred Botting, professor of English, Kingston University; Arthur Bradley, professor of contemporary literature and culture, Lancaster University; Ellen Burt, professor of French, University of California, Irvine; Michael Bradshaw, professor of Renaissance literature, Edge Hill University; Howard Caygill, professor of cultural history, Goldsmiths, University of London; Bryan Cheyette, professor of modern literature, University of Reading; Hélène Cixous, emeritus professor of women’s studies, University Paris VIII; Tom Cohen, professor of English and cultural studies, SUNY, Albany; Maria Delgado, professor of theatre and screen arts, Queen Mary, University of London; Michael Dillon, emeritus professor of politics, Lancaster University; Thomas Docherty, professor of English, University of Warwick; Patricia Duncker, professor of creative writing, University of Manchester; Alexander Duttmann, professor of philosophy and visual culture, Goldsmiths, University of London; Robert Eaglestone, professor of contemporary literature and thought, Royal Holloway, University of London; Christopher Fynsk, professor of comparative literature and modern thought, University of Aberdeen; David Theo Goldberg, professor of comparative literature and director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute; Peter Hallward, professor of modern European philosophy, Kingston University; Joanna Hodge, professor of philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University; Andrew Hussey, professor and dean of the University of London Paris Institute; John Hutnyk, professor of cultural studies, Goldsmiths, University of London; David Jackson, professor of Russian and Scandinavian art histories, University of Leeds; Scott McCracken, professor of English, Keele University; Angela McRobbie, professor of communications, Goldsmiths, University of London; Willy Maley, professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow; Peter Nicholls, professor of English, New York University; Christopher Norris, distinguished research professor in philosophy, Cardiff University; Mandy Merck, professor of media arts, Royal Holloway, University of London; J. Hillis Miller, distinguished research professor in comparative literature and English, University of California, Irvine; Simon Morgan Wortham, professor of English, Kingston University; Peter Osborne, professor of modern European philosophy, Kingston University; Roger Palmer, professor of fine art, University of Leeds; John Protevi, professor of French studies, Louisiana State University; June Purvis, emeritus professor of women’s and gender history, University of Portsmouth; Adrian Rifkin, professor of fine art, Goldsmiths, University of London; Irit Rogoff, professor of visual cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London; Antony Rowland, professor of memory studies, University of Salford; Nicholas Royle, professor of English, University of Sussex; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, university professor and director of the Centre for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University; Rei Terada, professor of comparative literature, University of California, Irvine; Patricia Waugh, professor of English studies, Durham University; Zoe Wicomb, professor emeritus, creative writing and English, University of Strathclyde; David Wills, professor of French and English, SUNY, Albany; Scott Wilson, professor of media and communications, Kingston University.

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