THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

September 13, 2012

The mounting crisis at London Metropolitan University is impossible to ignore, but gaining a new perspective is difficult. However, some fresh takes are appearing in the blogosphere.

Martin Weller, professor of educational technology at The Open University, has a particularly polemical explanation for the events on his blog, The Ed Techie.

Like many, Professor Weller sees London Met's loss of its right to sponsor international students as heavy-handed punishment for what it is alleged to have done.

"A warning, a suspension, a fine would have all been reasonable - but revoking it and causing such distress seems a clearly targeted action to create publicity," he writes. He speculates that there could be far more disturbing reasons.

"It was not the result of a direct order or intervention, but rather the outcome of pressure created by government," he hypothesises. "Theresa May is under pressure to hit targets for reducing migration, and student visas are be an easy option.

"It is therefore part of playing to the home crowd Tories to be seen to be taking a firm stance. There is undoubtedly something in this, and combined with an element of dodgy behaviour at LMU, it may be sufficient as an explanation."

Although such theories have been aired elsewhere, he goes further.

He cites a blog post from another Open University academic, John Naughton, emeritus professor of the public understanding of technology, which states: "Whenever someone intelligent seems to be behaving oddly, the hypothesis has to be that they know what they're doing and that you simply haven't figured it out."

"In times of financial crisis you would do everything possible to support such a sector, not undermine it, wouldn't you?" Professor Weller asks. "So, taking John's reasoning, this must mean we haven't figured out what they're doing." This, he says, gives birth to the possibility of a conspiracy theory.

"A while ago I blogged that higher education in the UK felt not just like any sector in a crisis, but one which was being deliberately targeted. I was highlighting how the student loan scheme, combined with student number control, would damage universities. If we give our conspiracy theory free rein, then having undermined the financial basis for the domestic market, the LMU debacle begins to look like the next stage in this plan, namely to undermine the overseas market.

"Why then would the government deliberately seek to destabilise an industry? The answer would be that it seeks to gain from that destabilisation. Having seen the problems it encountered by trying to reform the health system through due process and passing legislation, it doesn't want a repeat of this protracted and damaging scenario.

"A better approach is one of stealth - by financially undermining the existing structures, many universities will go to the wall. This will leave room for the private universities, which (the government) have already made warm noises about (and remember, student number control doesn't apply to these)."

Professor Weller acknowledges that he is not one for conspiracy theories, but if this one were true it would result in a rise in private provision and the closure of several universities, while other institutions would "retract significantly".

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