Wednesday, December 22, 2010

University cash slashed to 11% is an opportunity, abandon the failed status quo and bring forward new vision of higher education

Dear All

In times of trouble, some people scream like a bitch, the Labour Party is a perfect example at Glasgow City Council as is the university sector.

But in crisis there is opportunity to fix things because the slow witted with a nudge can sometimes be brought round or lead.

Universities have two purposes in the main, research and teaching.

There are also other purposes such as a community aspect and providing employment but they are secondary.

The scale of the cuts facing Scottish universities in the next academic year on the surface looks stark.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) distributes Scottish Government funding to higher education but isn’t as independent as the public might think.

The place is loaded with people from universities serving on committees.

The teaching budget is facing a cut of 11% for 2010-11.

I would therefore say that it would be a smart move to reform the entire higher education sector that means both universities and colleges.

The issue is money on the surface but below the surface there is the rest of the iceberg to deal with.

I don’t believe in change for change sake that produces no benefit but clearly the sector has been allowed to fester because politicians haven’t had the political will to demand reforms.

Universities need to be slimmed down and entire departments transferred into the college sector where it would be cheaper on a cost basis.

SFC funding has fallen by £69 million, from £678m to £609m.

And the future will see that budget chopped further regardless who parks themselves as the Scottish Government post 2011.

Professor Bernard King, convener of Universities Scotland said the announcement was a clear indicator universities faced a significant funding gap.

No shit Sherlock!

Everyone is blinkered trying to protect the status quo and we do know, ‘the status quo has got to go’!

King said:

“Cuts to our teaching grants will inflict real pain on universities who will work to honour their commitment to students, but who will find it enormously difficult to manage this year’s harsh settlement. University funding is not a problem for the future, it is a very real and very big problem right now.”

Did anyone plan for the future?

No, not really, short term vision, all round in universities, they got their ‘giros’ and spent it not putting anything aside or planning for a disaster.

Why didn’t they slim down?

Why didn’t they ‘twin’ with colleges?

Why did they continue empire building?

When I was at the human rights abusing Glasgow University, they decided that they wanted a presence in Dumfries.

My first reaction was this is a mistake; part of the appeal of university is leaving home to go to the ‘big city’.

But Glasgow University wanted to expand its empire because others were doing likewise, a short while later we had the ‘Crichton disaster’.

At the time I said pitching a tent in the provinces was a ‘white elephant’ doomed to disaster, I was right.

The story of that can be read here, it starts out as ‘hope’ and then limps on.

In the space of a year or so, we get this:

I remember the boy who took charge, Professor Rex Taylor seemed a reasonable sort from what I can remember of him, always friendly.

Mary Senior, Scottish official for the UCU union says the cut in higher education was “much more severe” than the overall cut in the Scottish budget.

That is true but then when you’re pouring money into a black hole, it is only natural that you should want to pour less in.

Senior added:

“The rest of the world is investing in higher education and we risk being left behind if we continue to wrongly think we can cut education.”

We are already left behind but Mary Senior like university bosses isn’t calling for anything radical, she wants the status quo to prop up her members, protectionism at its best run under the cover of protecting education.

She also calls on “big businesses” to start contributing towards the cost of higher education, why?

The business of business is business, not a philanthropy quest.

Senior goes further:

“It is ludicrous to suggest an already stretched sector can do more for less – the time has come to look at better and fairer ways to fund our universities.”

She is part of the problem, no vision merely cannon fodder, she is worth the time of day in this debate.

The SFC is biased towards the older universities as shown by their decision to focus more of its funds them.

In a smoke and mirrors scheme SFC has decided to channel additional funds for widening access to newer universities, who have been more successful in recruiting students from deprived backgrounds.

Older universities don’t do deprived working class well at all.

So, at present the problem has been kicked into the long grass by universities who have another year of the status quo.

But this story will come round again, same story, same problems, same people, same rhetoric.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in the novel, The House of Seven Gables:

“Families are always rising and falling in America. But, I believe, we ought to examine more closely the how and why of it, which in the end revolves around life and how you live it.”

Same with universities and colleges but it does help when the people at the top making decisions have some kind of vision.

To put it simply, we need to slim down the university sector and expand the college sector that way we will get more people educated for every pound spent.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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