UK 'consumer' culture causes global concerns

Hundreds of academics, writers and other campaigners from across the world have signed a "manifesto" calling on the coalition government and UK universities to reverse policies that they say are leading to the commercialisation of higher education.

May 19, 2011

The itemised petition, created as part of a new book by two academics on the impact of the government's reforms, calls for public spending to be brought in line with other European countries and asks for an end to the culture of "customer satisfaction".

The signatories include academics and leading officers from student unions as well as more high-profile figures, including Neal Lawson, chair of the think tank Compass, and Labour MP John McDonnell.

One of the project's creators - Des Freedman, reader in communications and cultural studies at Goldsmiths, University of London - said the idea originated from the protests against tuition fee increases late last year. The groundswell of opposition had demonstrated that many people across society, not just students and academics, were concerned about the direction of education policy worldwide.

The book, The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, to be published in the summer, will look at how market forces have altered the purpose of universities, including the effect on the nature of teaching.

Dr Freedman, who wrote the book with Michael Bailey, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Essex, said overseas support for the manifesto showed the international concern about the issue.

"Academics in Europe and America really do identify with trends here - which are the commercialisation and commodification of education," he said.

The manifesto's other demands include the abolition of fees, restoration of the block grant and the scrapping of the research excellence framework. It calls on institutions to guarantee decent terms and conditions for university employees, to improve staff-to-student ratios, to place a cap on the salaries of vice-chancellors and to "democratise" governing bodies.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com.

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