Posts Tagged ‘Angela Rayner’

‘I’ Newspaper on Labour’s Plans to Liberate University Regulator from Market Forces

February 16, 2019

Today’s I for Saturday, 16th February 2019 has an article by Florence Snead on page 4 reporting Labour’s plans to overhaul the universities regulator, and remove the free market ideology currently underpinning its approach to higher education in the UK. The piece, entitled ‘Universities ‘should not be left to the mercy of market forces’ runs

Labour has unveiled how it would overhaul the higher education system as it claimed the system’s new regulator was “not fit for purpose”.

The shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner will criticize the Office for Students – established by the Government in 2018 – in a speech today at the annual University and Colleges Union conference.

She will say the regulator represents a system “where market logic is imposed on public goods” and where “forces of competition run rampant at the expense of students, staff and communities.”

Labour said it wants the regulator to report on diversity in university staff and student bodies and to take action to make universities “genuinely representative of the communities they serve”.

Staff should also be represented on the regulator’s board to ensure their views are heard, it added.

The party said it would also ban vice chancellors sitting on their own remuneration committees.

Ms Rayner is also expected to address the issue of universities being on the brink of bankruptcy, as previously revealed by I.

“Students would be left with immense uncertainty about their futures and entire communities would lose one of their major academic, economic and social institutions.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore responded: “Universities know they can’t trust Corbyn as his plans would crash the economy, mean less investment in our higher education, compromising its world class quality”.

Actually, if anything’s trashed our world class education system, it’s been the Thatcherite programme of privatization and free market ideology. Scientific research at UK universities has been hampered ever since Thatcher decided that university science departments should go into partnership with business. Which has meant that universities can no longer engage in blue sky research, or not so much as they could previously, and are shackled to producing products for private firms, rather than expanding the boundaries of knowledge for its own sake. Plus some of the other problems that occur when scientific discoveries become the property of private, profit driven industries.

Then there’s the whole problem of the introduction of tuition fees. This should not have been done. I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol when Mandelson and Blair decided to do this, and it’s immediate result was the scaling down of certain departments and shedding of teaching staff. Those hardest hit were the departments that required more funding because of the use of special equipment. This included my own department, Archaeology, where students necessarily go on digs, surveys and field expeditions. This means that the department had to have transport to take its staff and students to wherever they were excavating, provide digging equipment, although many students had their own trowels. They also needed and trained students in the use of specialist equipment like the geophysical magnetometers used to detect structures beneath the soil through the measurement of tiny changes in the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, as well as labs to clean up and analyse the finds, from the type of soil in which they were found, the material out of which the finds were made, chemical composition of various substances, like food residue in pots, so you can tell what people were eating and drinking, and the forensic examination of human and animal remains.

I’ve no doubt that this situation was made worse when Cameron and Clegg decided to raise tuition fees to their present exorbitant level. Which has meant that students are now saddled with massive debt, which may make it difficult for some ever to afford to buy their own homes. Student debt was already an issue just after I left college, when the Tories decided to end student grants. After the introduction of tuition fees it has become an even more critical issue.

Then there’s the whole issue of proper pay and conditions for university lecturers. This is nowhere near as high as it should be. A friend of mine in the ’90s was one of the Student Union officers at our old college/uni. He told me one day just what some of the highly skilled and educated lecturers were earning. And it was low. Many of them were on part-time work, and I think the pay for some of them was at average wage level or below. And that was then. I’ve no idea what it’s like now. I’ve come across reports of a similar crisis at American universities and colleges, where the pay for the managers has skyrocketed while that of teaching staff has fallen catastrophically. And this is all part of the general pattern throughout industry as a whole, where senior management has enjoyed massively bloated pay rises and bonuses, while staff have been laid off and forced on to short term or zero hours contracts and low pay.

All this has been done in the name of ‘market forces’ and the logic of privatization.

I am not remotely surprised that British higher education is in crisis, and that an increasing number of colleges and universities are facing bankruptcy. This was always on the cards, especially as the population surge that inspired many colleges and polytechnics to seek university status on the belief that there would be enough student numbers to support them, is now over. Market logic would now dictate that, as the universities are failing, they should be allowed to collapse. Which would deprive students and their communities of their services.

The structure of British higher education needs to be reformed. The entire Thatcherite ethic of privatization, free markets, and tuition fees needs to be scrapped. Like everything else Thatcher and her ideological children ever created, it is a bloated, expensive and exploitative failure. My only criticism about Corbyn’s and Rayner’s plans for the unis isn’t that they’re too radical, but that they’re too timid.

Vox Political On May’s Grubby Plan to Turn Teachers into Border Guards

December 2, 2016

Mike yesterday also put up a piece commenting on Theresa May’s plan to use teachers as border guards in her campaign to cover up her failure to crack down on illegal immigration. Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, had joined a number of other politicians condemning May’s plan to force schools to withdraw offers of places to the children of illegal immigrants. Rayner rightly attacked these plans as contrary to British values and impractical. She stated it was trying to turn teachers into border guards.

Mike makes the point that teachers are already overworked. It is also unfair and illegal to stop children under 16 from having an education in order to punish their parents. As for teachers demanding to see children’s passports, Mike makes the point that not all children have them. He didn’t until he first went abroad in his twenties. I first acquired a passport when I was at school – in the sixth form – to go on a school trip, so I also didn’t have one until quite late, at least by May’s standards.

And Mike also makes a point about how this reflects on May’s declaration that she is guided by her Christian faith. He thinks that this is less about Christian charity, and more about the Old Testament dictum that ‘the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children unto the third and fourth generation’. But I don’t think it’s even about that. It’s just sheer vindictiveness against the poorest and most defenceless, just to cover her own failings.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/01/the-grubby-little-idea-that-will-tarnish-theresa-may/

Actually, there’s a bit of synchronicity here, as I read this on Mike’s site just after coming back from the first part of an Advent course held at our local church. This was an exploration of the meaning of hospitality in the Old Testament. The minister argued that hospitality has to be at the centre of Christian practice. He made the point that in the Old Testament, hospitality meant much more than it does today. Observant Jews in ancient Israel were expected to entertain and feed travellers, the poor and strangers, including foreign residents, as Abraham, the founder of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, does in Genesis when he meets the Lord and two angels. The patriarch urges them to stop by his tent, washes their feet, and his wife, Sarah, prepares a meal for them. He invites them to join him, saying that he would be honoured if they’d join him.

At the same time, the Torah – the Mosaic Law -in Leviticus commanded the people of Israel to respect and provide for the widow, the fatherless and the foreigner, ‘for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt’. During the Feast of Sukkoth, Jews were supposed to open their doors and feed widows, orphans and strangers, according to a passage in the Talmud. This is the oral, supplementary law which guides observant Jews as well as the written law revealed by Moses. The passage in the Talmud, which enjoins this states that the man, who does not open his gates to the poor during this feast, is not really celebrating it, but only his belly. And such hospitality is regarded as a mitzvah – a commandment.

It strikes me that this last statement contradicts the various Tories, who turned up during Thatcher’s tenure of 10 Downing Street, to tell us all that Christ’s remarks about looking after the poor and marginalised were all about doing so responsibly, and had nothing to do with government policy. In the context of the time, they don’t. But it’s much stronger than the voluntarism the Tories and New Labour tried to promote.

These passages from the Bible and the cultural contexts in which they are placed, such as the Talmudic laws on the correct observance of the Hebrew festivals, are a very sharp rebuttal to the current xenophobia that is sweeping the nation thanks to Brexit. And the minister leading the service said that he was very worried about the xenophobia which was rising in this country.

I realise that many of the readers of this blog are atheists. The point I am trying to make here, is that Tories don’t have a monopoly on the Jewish and Christian revelations and the Bible. And when it comes to the poor, quite often the commandments of the Bible point away from the abuse heaped on them by the Conservatives and Blairite right.

As for the duty of the wealthy to entertain the poor, this was also taken extremely serious in medieval and 16th century Britain. Great lords used to set aside sums of money so they could be seen to be feeding and supporting the poor. The prior of St. James’ Priory in Bristol, for example, fed 100 beggars at the priory gates every day. Similarly, one town chronicler in the 16th century lamented the burning down one gentleman’s house, because its owner was a generous man, at whose house many people were refreshed. In other words, he took seriously his responsibility as a member of the upper classes to provide for those less fortunate than himself.

Which poses an interesting question. If Theresa May wants to restore society to the quasi-feudal conditions of the 19th century, does that mean that she’s also willing to accept the feudal responsibility of feeding and clothing the poor once again? Not just through food banks, but also at the gates of their homes? Somehow, I don’t think so, no matter what she might say about the importance of charity. You can imagine the screams of rage she’d utter if 100 poor men and women turned up at her house, asking for bread.