July 20, 2017

There is something deeply disingenuous about Jo Johnson’s roseate view of the effect of tuition fees on our universities. Prospective students are clearly put off by the threat of graduating with £57,000 worth of debt; especially working-class students unsure about what university really offers them.

He ignores the real impact: the commercialisation of higher education.

There has been a huge increase in student numbers on some courses with academic staff bearing the weight. Across the sector there is a lack of investment in core teaching activities. And yet the number of signature buildings on British campuses shows no sign of slowing. Many universities have opened new campuses in exotic, holiday locations around the world (from Singapore and Cyprus to Qatar), many of which are failing and have had to be closed. Core undergraduate fees are ultimately funding these adventures.

British universities are becoming fee-charging, private-sector businesses in all-but name. Yet many of them are conspicuously bad at private sector activity. Universities have a high turnover among administrative staff and plummeting morale among academic staff, many of whom feel that their core teaching roles are simply not appreciated or valued by senior university managers.

After Brexit, we will need a knowledge and skills-based economy in which university teaching will be vital. At present we have TEF which despite its name awards "badges" to universities without a single teaching session being observed. REF has bureaucratised university research to such an extent that innovation is becoming harder and harder for many.

The mental health crisis among academics that is being caused by this over-bureaucratisation of our universities is another hidden threat. The stress caused by initiatives like REF and TEF is colossal, as are the complex administrative processes which these external audits entail. The Government is actually increasing red-tape in Britain's universities, even though it claims that red-tape impedes efficiency and dynamism in the private sector. An academic is expected to be a fundraiser, marketer, administrator and world-leading expert in their field, as well as teacher and researcher, while also providing pastoral care, psychological support, and careers advice, to students.

Mr Johnson’s real aim is to attribute a disingenuous cost of £100 billion to Labour’s popular plan to scrap university tuition fees. Meanwhile, Damian Green is advocating consideration of that very policy. It really is a “uni-shambles” at the heart of government.

What is needed is a return to the university system before corporatisation and rampant managerialism. A return to a time before Vice-Chancellors rebadged themselves as “CEOs” or “presidents”. We need to take back control of our universities, so that decisions are made on academic and pedagogic grounds and not simply on the basis of corporate, business strategies. 

Jessica Guth
Kirsty Horsey
Alastair Hudson
Robert G. Lee
Dr Alex Bellem
Dr Sarah Burton
Dr Lucy Michael
Anna Grear
Bharat Malkani
Fiona Murphy
Chris Lloyd
Athina Karatzogianni
Dr Kate Devlin
David Thomas
Fiona Bledge
Jonathan Marsh
Andrew Denham
Saladin Meckled-Garcia
Gavin Brown
Dan Newman
Mairead Enright
Helen Jarvis
Ruth Stirton
John Christopher Kern
Pete Dorey
Julia Carter
G Rex Smith
Heidi Colthup
Dr Emma Kennedy
Christine Campbell
Stephen W Smith
Diana Paton
Nicky Priaulx
Emilie Murphy
Marysia Zalewski
Tony Brown
Zach Leggett
Victoria Honeyman
John Goodwin
Dr Laura Cashman
Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth
Colin Clark
Simon Mark Bransden
Soeren Keil
Dr Theodore Koulouris
Alexia Papamichail
Andreas Kotsakis
Dr Y J Erden
George Michaelides
Nuno Ferreira
Dr Demetra Arsalidou
Muireann Quigley
Mousumi Vaughan
Judith Hudson
federico ortino
Christine Byron
Isra Black
Trevor Dale
Abenaa Owusu-Bempah
Dr Marie Bailey
Nicola Abbott
Mark McCormack
Dr Martin Fry
Dr Theo Kindynis
Peter Day
Helen Stalford
Rhian newman
Elaine Titcombe
Laura Bailey
Karin Wahl-Jorgensen
George Walkden
Dr Mareike Jenner
Jen Birks
Robert Truswell
Wouter Poortinga
Cahal McLaughlin
Dr K Kapphahn
Derek Hodge
Dr Anthony Ellis
Katy Jones
Anna Einarsdottir
Ria Deakin
Juliane A. Lischka
Katharine Hodgkin
Dr Niklaas J. Buurma
Olivia Kotsifa
Abi Rhodes
Elizabeth Peel
Gianlluca Simi
Dr Lynne F Baxter
Charles Antaki
Jackie Leach Scully
Darren Langdridge
Juliet Gryspeerdt
Nick Hacking
Chrissie Rogers
Ben McGorrigan PhD
Lara Hopkinson
Patricia Garcia
Plus 276 others

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Reader's comments (3)

Never were truer words spoken.
This is just the start. The point is not simply to criticise the university sector, but rather to change it.
Agree wholeheartedly, but what should be the next steps to achieve the metamorphosis?