Posts Tagged ‘Polytechnics’

Private For-Profit University Collapses in London

August 5, 2019

Last Thursday’s I for 1st August 2019 carried a report by Ewan Somerville on the  collapse of one of the private universities set up in recent decades, GSM, on page 11. The article, titled ‘Private London university GSM collapses’, ran

One of Britain’s largest private universities has collapsed into administration, leaving thousands of students fearing they will not be able to complete their degrees.

GSM London, a for-profit private degree provider with 3,500 students, will close in September after failing to “recruit and retain sufficient numbers of students” to stay afloat. It says 247 jobs are threatened.

The UCU lecturers’ union blamed the “marketisation of education” and warned against an “increase in poorly regulated private providers”.

Jeffrey Fernhout, 23, who has just completed an economics degree at GSM, told the I he received “no warning” about the collapse. “This has left a lot of students angry, frustrated and uncertain about their future,” he said. “But the organisation was very badly managed so this isn’t a shock.”

The Office for Students, the higher education watchdog, said its “priority is to ensure that students are able to complete their studies”. GSM promised to “support as far as possible “those needing to be relocated.

The Department for Education reiterated its stance of not “bail(ing) out failing providers”.

So much for their superiority of market forces and private enterprise. Of course, this isn’t the only university in trouble. Very many are experience financial problems, partly due to cuts in government funding. When I was studying for my Archaeology Ph.D. at Bristol, I was told that the archaeology department was faced with laying off some of its teaching staff because of funding cuts made by the Blair government. Blair, Mandelson and co. funding policy was inadequate to support courses that required expensive technical equipment. I also heard from academic friends this weekend that one university has also been forced to close their conservation course for archives and libraries, despite it being considered the leading course of this type in the country. Again, the reason was the high cost of funding against the small number of students taking the course. It’s a financially simplistic attitude that ignores the fact that archives and libraries need skilled conservators, and that the money spent on such a course is repaid in the continuing upkeep of rare and valuable materials held in institutions up and down the country.

I also think that many other universities, which are similarly experiencing financial problems, also have problems recruiting the necessary number of students. Years ago, way back at the beginning of the century, another academic friend of mine predicted this would happen. He had been looking at the demographic rates, and concluded that the bulge in the number of people in their late teens and early twenties, who would enter Higher Education, had passed. Colleges and polytechnics, which were perfectly good as they were, were encouraged, if not required to expand into universities. I think that as a result, many of them have seriously overstretched themselves. Universities have complained that the initial student fees they were allowed to charge, which were capped at £3,000, were inadequate. Hence the increase to £9,000. And this has led in turn to massive student debt.

Many students now feel that they cannot afford their education, and that includes nurses. A little while ago BBC Bristol produced a documentary reporting that students number on nursing courses had fallen. Interviewing some of those still on the course, they explained that the reason was that they simply could not afford to support themselves and pay the tuition fees. Some of those still on the course explained that they had to work to support themselves. These young people often worked long hours, as well as the time they spent on their academic and practical studies. Those aspiring nurses, who are continuing their studies in this environment, are clearly to be admire for their dedication. But it’s a deplorable way to treat the future skilled medical staff which Britain needs, especially with its aging population.

And the situation has not been helped by the concern of university management and administrators for their own enrichment at the expense of teaching staff. I understand that many of the lecturers at universities are actually poorly paid. Quite a number actually work only part-time, because full-time positions are rare and extremely difficult to get. Meanwhile, we’ve seen a procession of university chancellors awarding themselves salaries in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. This mirrors the way business management has consistently voted massive pay rises for themselves, while cutting investment and freezing pay or even finding ways to deliberately underpay their employees. Like zero hours contracts.

But despite the precariousness of university finances, thanks to Thatcherite educational policies, the government is determined not to give financial support to those failing. Which means that if they go under, tens of thousands of students will have racked up tens of thousands in debt for zilch.

The introduction of market forces and the privatisation of Higher and Further Education is a failure. It’s leaving universities in financial trouble, forcing some lecturers and other non-management staff to accept poor wages and job insecurity, and leaving students with a mountain of debt which many will find impossible to pay off.

It’s another example of the utter failure of Thatcherism, despite its continuing loud promotion by a shrilly intolerant media and political establishment. It’s time to bring it to an end, and get rid of it. All of it, including the parties supporting it – the Brexiteers, the Tories and the Lib Dems. Get them out, and a proper Labour government in.

 

 

 

Advertisements

‘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.