Why we fight 2

August 5, 2010

The UK coalition government's strategy for public services, notably the NHS and in all likelihood the academy, is to make massive cuts and then pass to professionals, users and local people responsibility for running them.

Margaret Thatcher called this sort of thing "promoting the enterprising individual"; now it is dressed up as Liberal "localism" or the Tory "Big Society". The only big thing about suddenly giving doctors responsibility for running the NHS is the bonanza that will be reaped by a few companies specialising in administering and commissioning health services at a profit.

How can universities make up the likely 20 per cent cuts they face without opening themselves up to even greater commercial penetration? Well for a start, what if they cancelled all their contracts with Microsoft and changed to free (and reputedly much more appropriate and reliable) open-source software? Has anyone calculated the savings that would be delivered?

Such a move would be disruptive - but so will 20 per cent staffing cuts and the unbundling, casualising and commercialising of academic activity, which are the likely alternatives.

The energy and new forms of community associated with open source could also reinvigorate collegial dialogue and decision-making. It is time for the academy to create its own versions of the Big Society to undermine profiteering.

Susan Wright, Professor of educational anthropology, University of Aarhus.

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