If the Higher Education White Paper of becomes law, this will fundamentally mean the dismantling of the entire university system.
The sector will be left in a situation where the existence of some universities will be under threat, the weight of debt will lie on the shoulders of students and standards of teaching and academic excellence will be driven down by market competition and privatisation. This is a situation made more bleak by the prospect of £9,000 tuition fees and the project of the Government, “to break university students and staff from their affiliation to the public sector.” (Wolfreys, Universities for Hire, 2011)
This picture painted of the ultimate outcomes of the White Paper is not based on spurious claims, but is the widely held view by groups of academics, University staff and students from across the country. For a more extensive analysis of the HE White Paper, I would recommend a pamphlet written by Jim Wolfreys of Kings College London, ‘Universities for Hire’, available from the Education Activist Network.
The Campaign for the Public University has also issued an ‘Alternative White Paper’, whilst Oxford academics have voted to pass a no confidence vote in David Willets, the Minister responsible for Education reform and the Coalition’s White Paper for HE. This level of opposition points toward the true nature of the White Paper; that “University staff will become service providers. Students will become consumers. Universities will become temples of profit increasingly dominated by the private sector.” (Wolfreys, Universities for Hire, 2011)
The White Paper seeks, according to David Willets and Vince Cable, to put ‘the undergraduate experience at the heart of the system’. It seeks to do this by addressing the problems in the University sector:
1. the need to increase social mobility
2. the need to improve the student experience
3. the requirement to ensure the financial viability of HE
In fact, the results of the HE White Paper, as confirmed by academics, University staff and students instead have an entirely different outcome.
· Any idea of fairness or social mobility is in fact shattered by this White Paper. Student debt is set to rise to an average of £50,000, with nearly a quarter of students set to have loans owned by commercial credit agencies with high rates of interest.
· Students will become merely consumers of a service. Any idea of University education as a public good will be eroded. The private sector will be given a greater sphere of influence over University life, the ability to award degrees and access to public money through the student loans scheme.
· In the quest for profit, academic excellence will be driven down, an artificial market will be created within the sector ‘for the benefit of student choice’ and departments or institutions will be sold to the highest private bidder.
· According to the Times Higher, ‘The government is bringing us closer to the worst excesses of the US system, where students from the lowest socio-economic quartile are hugely under-represented at the most prestigious universities and over-represented at those offering two-year associate degrees and at “for-profit” institutions.’ (THE, 4 August 2011).
However, this isn’t a future that we have to accept. The student movement which found its feet in November 20101 after the 52,000 strong march in London, has in many ways built the links required to forge a successful defence of our Education system. Lecturers’ strikes in defence of jobs, pay and pensions, student walk outs and University occupations are proving that there is a plethora of tactical moves to link up the fights across our sector.
The forces that are lining up to defend our Universities from the White Paper range from academics, students, University staff, campaign groups and other public sector workers. This shows the strength of our movement. We can defeat these proposals – the first step toward that from here is to build for EDUCATION SHUTDOWN on the 30th of November.
Nathan Bolton, Campaigns Officer, University of Essex Students Union
(this statement is reproduced in ‘the Rabbit’ newspaper.)