25th March 2010

CUTS TO EDUCATION EXPOSED

 On Thursday the government announced how cuts to higher education will be distributed between the universities. The long-awaited report confirmed the fears of many that education would be made to pay the price of the £1 trillion given to the rich bankers. The report from the Higher Education Funding Council of England shows that four out of every five universities in England will face real-terms cuts. A total of £573 million in cash cuts (7.23%), have been announced for next year alone. This is nothing short of a catastrophe for education in England.

In order to make the cuts seem less bitter, slight increases have been made to teaching and research funding but this is still a real terms fall. The cuts by and large fall in the ‘capital funding’ bracket – mostly the money that universities are allowed to claim for new buildings. This may not seem like it will immediately effect students, but many university buildings are unfit for purpose and will be replaced by universities using funding from other areas – effectively sacking teachers and replacing them with bricks. This is currently happening at King’s College, where staff are being sacked at the same time as management are forking out £20 million for the grandiose Somerset House on the bank of the river Thames.

Just for profit, not for students
Research funding will be narrowed into a smaller number of ‘elite’ institutions, creating a two-tier system.
The general trend is to give more money to the universities that already have the most, by taking it away from the others. Oxford University’s research funding has increased by £7.1million up to £126million, and a third of the total research fund is distributed to just five key universities – Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial and Manchester. Less fortunate universities are set to become little more than teaching factories providing degrees aimed at workplace skills with much less funding to develop research practices. But although these richer universities are more protected from the cuts, some are still making academic staff redundant as part of a drive towards “restructuring” – providing only courses that are profitable in the world of business, and deprioritising education that is for the pursuit of knowledge.

Education for the rich
Many university managers want to shift the central funding crisis onto students – by campaigning for higher tuition fees. Shortly after the general election, the review into ‘Higher Education Funding and Student Finance’, headed by ex-BP chief executive Lord Browne, is expected to increase the tuition fee cap from £3,225 per year to £5,000 or even higher.

Some universities such as Oxford are pushing for the cap to be abolished altogether, allowing them to charge whatever they like. Fees have already been shown to put working class students off entering university, and the higher fees proposed are likely to mean that more prestigious universities such as those in the Russell group will become almost exclusively playgrounds of the rich. The combined effect will be that working class students will pay to be trained in careers, while rich students will receive a traditional ‘liberal’ arts and sciences education leading to cultural elitism. This would be a serious regression back in the direction of a Victorian style education.

Stealing our future
But with money, or without it, the HEFCE is threatening to keep higher education well out of reach of thousands of students in Further Education colleges who want to carry on their studies.
Entry quotas have been given to universities, and they will be required to keep within the limits or face financial penalties. At a time when unemployment is so high, many young people are desperate to start earning money, or continue education and are now being denied the opportunity for either, with an estimated seven applicants for every university place this year, leaving youth on the scrap-heap.

Courses cut – exec pay rockets
Many universities have already begun cutting staff and even whole departments. Sussex has lost linguistics, Leeds is losing classics, UCL is cutting language courses and Westminster is slashing IT. The cuts are not just a response to anticipated central government funding cuts, but university managers are cynically using them as an excuse to remove unprofitable courses and academics who perform useful research, but without immediate financial value to businesses.

This is part of the trend towards neo-liberalism in universities where academics have to justify their jobs based on economic value, ignoring the far more important value non-profitable research can have for society. The move towards business-orientated universities has expressed itself in other ways – vice-chancellors have seen their pay increase to a level similar of Britain’s largest national corporations, many earning in excess of £300,000 per annum. At the same time their numbers have increased by a third, meaning a disproportionate amount of money is spent on management while academic jobs are being cut. This is

Britain’s role in the shady European ‘Bologna Process’ plan, which is attacking education across Europe, and has provoked mass uprisings of students from Italy, to Greece, to France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and many more. The process coordinates efforts by the leaders of 42 countries to standardise universities, allowing them to compete with one another – creating a market in education, where institutions that best serve the needs of business will thrive, whereas the others will be cut back. The global financial crisis seems to mean that the bosses are accelerating the process.

But the current attacks on education are no foregone conclusion, and the movement for education is starting to win victories. Occupations, demonstrations and strikes at Sussex, Leeds and London Met have already won some impressive victories along the way to defeating the cuts, and the similar struggles of our brothers and sisters in Europe show a potential to organise internationally – if we could do that imagine how powerful the student movement would be. The lesson – we need to organise and fight for learning, not profit

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