“We have a challenge for Mr. Willetts , and for his apostle and accomplice, Professor Grayling”, say University professors.

Here, we reproduce the letter signed by a number of University professors that was published in a shortened version in the Guardian today.  

It is with some dismay and growing concern that we register the launch of the New College of the Humanities

In 1538, Thomas Cromwell, on behalf of Henry VIII, commenced the dissolution of the monasteries. First on a marginal scale, then as a totalising assault, the process destroyed libraries and learning, and generations of accumulated culture, while it further enriched those of the gentry who acquired the assets.  Persuaded that some change was overdue, a minority of abbots and nuns and monks even supported the process, initially.

Four and a half centuries later, we are witnessing a comparable vandalism: the dissolution of the universities as public institutions of research, scholarship and the dissemination of knowledge.

 However well-intentioned may have been the motivations of the instigators of the New College, and however principled may be the determination of its staff to defend high quality, this initiative is mistaken. As a private institution of higher education, its creation is a set-back for the campaign against this Government’s policy – a policy of further commercialisation of education through fees, as a precursor to the bankrupting, and then the asset-stripping or sale, of public provision.

The exasperation of the academy at the systematic underfunding of education by successive governments is understandable but privatisation of teaching and research is not the answer. It will distort course provision and the focus of investigation. It will foster an instrumental attitude to learning amongst students, who will increasingly measure the value of their degrees against the private returns from possible future employment that might allow them to repay their debts.

Most significantly, the US model for higher education will encourage the commercial narrowing of the ambit of provision until all but those ‘universities’ in the Ivy League are forced to give up that title. It will foreclose access to higher education for all whose bank accounts are not overly provided, or who are not from backgrounds sufficiently impoverished to qualify them for bursaries.

The paradox is that that this radical reflex of frustrated scholars is not just complicit with the agenda of privatisation, it is entirely unnecessary as a protective manoeuvre. Many of us are in schools and faculties where small-group seminars and one-to-one tutorials and a personal tutorial system have been preserved despite the years of attrition. Preserving the best requires a principled commitment to quality and equal access, not collusion and despair, and certainly not greed or a casual attraction to iconoclasm.

Resistance to Government policy also remains an obligation for those in the academy. Acquiescence in the face of this assault is unworthy of any scholar for whom political engagement in defence of her discipline ought to be recognised as a duty. That resistance is now being organised by the trade unions of university staff. Professor Grayling and his colleagues should be part of that resistance. Currently, they are on the wrong side of the barricade.

We have a challenge for Mr. Willetts , and for his apostle and accomplice, Professor Grayling. Your case is that the New College model should be a positive supplement in the future of British higher education. If your case is as sound as you claim, then debate it before the public to as wide an audience as is possible. Debate it with any two of us on British terrestrial television. We do not mind whether the two of you bring with you two brains or three

Tom Hickey (Brighton, and UCU National Executive)

Professor Geoff Eley (Michigan)

Professor Esther Leslie (Birkbeck)

Professor Louise Morley (Sussex)

Professor James Ladyman (Bristol)

Professor Alex Callinicos (Kings)

Professor Cora Kaplan (Southampton)

Professor Bob Brecher (Brighton)

Professor Kees van der Pijl (Sussex)

Professor Malcolm Povey (Leeds)

Professor Luke Martell (Sussex)

Professor Richard Norman (Kent)

Professor Tom Claes (Ghent)

Professor Raf Salkie (Brighton)

Professor Gurminder  Bhambra (Warwick)

Professor Jonathan Woodham (Brighton)

Professor Matthew Cornford (Brighton)

About educationactivistnetwork
The education activist network provides national coordination for trade unionists, academics, university workers and student campaigners fighting to defend jobs and education in the UK.

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