This corrosion spreads

September 6, 2012

Terran Lane struck a chord with me, irrespective of the obvious differences between the US and UK higher education systems ("I'd have to be mad to leave here, they said - and they were right", Opinions, 23 August). You don't have to be mad to work in the academy these days - but it helps.

I am thinking about leaving the sector after more than 25 years, mostly based in the UK, but also Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. I come from a Continental European educational background and chose an academic career because I was fired up by my subjects - law, politics, languages and international relations. Academia offered research, autonomy, intellectual freedom and a culture of public knowledge and critical enquiry - until I was told by a senior manager that we were now a "private business" and so it was time to either "lump it or leave it".

I have spent the past 15 years at a large university in the North West of England and find that all the things I deeply value about academia are being reduced to empty shells thanks to a corrosive triad of commercialisation, commodification and consumerism.

A source of pride has become a mass conveyor belt of fleeting, sub-standard degrees. The sector is corrupted by corporate greed, a Kafkaesque culture of control and micromanagement, a focus on vacuous notions such as "skills" and "employability" over knowledge and wisdom, and change for change's sake. A host of misguided policies by successive UK governments have ignored the fact that not everyone can or should go to university.

I agree with Lane when he bemoans the strong anti-education sentiment in the university sector, a sector that seems to have succumbed to extreme short-termism, the worship of celebrity and an obsession with image. I would further suggest that one pernicious aspect of this sad decline needs to be recognised: the deeply anti-democratic structures and mechanisms spreading within university management. These structures allow for "consultations" to be farcical exercises and for decisions to be made, in the name of academics, over their heads and without placing any value on their autonomy.

Lane is right: it's time to speak up or to leave - or both.

Georg Wiessala, Preston

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