Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The three decades between Lucky Jim and A Very Peculiar Practice saw a flourishing of academic satire; but contemporary writers are struggling to maintain the genre as what is happening in our higher education institutions grows stranger than fiction. I give you the example of a recent encounter with a delegation from the Technical University of Chongqing who were visiting my institution. My role was to persuade them to send us thousands of students and help keep us solvent in the competitive-global-knowledge-economy.
This troubled me on many levels. It indicated the limitation of the globalised approach to education: Having insufficient knowledge of their cultural and social context I simply could not identify a ground on which to make my approach to our guests. More personally, I did not become an academic in order to train Chinese businessmen to be more effective capitalist managers. And then there is the carbon question. Back in November Vince Cable visited China selling, amongst other things, our universities. So rather than preparing sustainable citizens we are teaching Chinese students who will produce at least 5,000 kg of CO2 every year they are with us (some five times their annual limit).
Our universities have traditionally offered a range of subjects enabling the progress of human understanding and expanding scientific knowledge in parallel. Universities have also been responsible for maintaining a commitment to culture and learning, and offering the space and dedicated time to solve the nation’s problems. But over the past several decades universities have become businesses and now the removal of government subsidy from all except the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and languages has made clear that the present role of our HE institutions is to provide for corporations the training they would once have funded in-house.
The enforced exile of our universities in the marketplace was consolidated when their political oversight was passed from Education to the Department for Business and they were forced to tailor their courses to suit their customers, omitting the tricky parts of the curriculum which were, unsurprisingly, less popular with students. This perception of the student as consumer has undermined the student-teacher relationship which is essential for learning to take place. Far from seeking out more time with their professors, which David Willetts suggested would be the result of marketisation, many students believe they have bought the degree when they arrive; turning up and being troubled with new ideas or, worse still, expected to actively engage with theoretical concepts is an affront to their consumer rights.
Education cannot be turned into a product and an education that is bought and sold will always be a poor education. Watching your students check their mobiles during a lecture, and wondering whether they are calculating if you have earned the £26.49 they paid for you since you entered the room, is a dispiriting experience that saps the confidence and encourages the sort of teaching that appears to be offering value for money: voluminous handouts and regurgitated facts.
Perhaps most important of all, real education is not always an enjoyable experience. Genuine education is emancipatory and revolutionary, which may be a reason why conservatives distrust it. The good educator challenges the student’s world-view and this cannot always be a comfortable experience. You know you are teaching successfully when you see a furrow begin to appear on the youthful skin of your students’ foreheads. This connotes the performance of ‘thinking’, an activity that has been increasingly rare in universities since the advent of the market
A conference in this month Winchester asks another important question: ‘Can Universities Make the Move Towards, or Even Lead ‘Transition’?’ In their role as national problem-solvers surely this should be top of Vice-Chancellors’ agenda, but in the market model it cannot be. Our Management School has a shiny new building in which to teach Chinese and Indian managers; sadly it occupies the piece of land that was formerly the site of greenhouses. In spite of rocketing global prices and the need to reduce food miles, teaching our young people to grow food is no longer part of the strategy for a modern educational facility.
This abandonment of the role of providing young people with the skills they need to address pressing social problems is part of what Sara Parkin refers to as the ‘business school betrayal’.1 The deeper betrayal is to deprive our young people of the opportunity to question, challenge and improve the world we are bequeathing to them, rather than merely ‘managing it’.
According to Paolo Freire,
‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world’.2
The accelerating environmental crisis makes clear how urgently we need our universities to offer education in the style of Freire’s second definition.
1. Parkin, S. (2010), The Positive Deviant (London: Earthscan).
2. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. USA. 2000
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook