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
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out