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An Alternative to the White Paper

An Alternative to the White Paper

Academic staff and students from across the sector and in a variety of campaigning groups – Campaign for the Public University, Oxford University Campaign for Higher Education, Sussex University Defends Higher Education, Warwick University Campaign for Higher Education, Humanities Matter, No Confidence Campaign, Cambridge Academic Campaign for Higher Education – have written a trenchant response to the Government’s White Paper. 

This document, Putting Vision Back into Higher Education: A Response to the Government White Paper, is a call to colleagues to contribute to an Alternative White Paper to be published at the end of the Government’s consultation period in September. This will be presented to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, together with the weight of opinion in support. We are now asking colleagues to contact their subject associations, and other bodies, to contribute, and to join together themselves to provide evidence for an alternative. An email address is given below and we ask people to send their contributions to us for collation in an Alternative White Paper by 2 September 2011 to align with the Government’s consultation deadline of 20 September.

In the critique of the White Paper, we argue that:

  • It threatens the excellence of higher education in England. It does not put the student at the ‘heart of the system’, but the market.
  • It cuts direct public support for undergraduate degrees by 80%, and by transferring costs to students via higher fees it succeeds in providing fewer resources for most degrees while requiring students to pay more.
  • It is a reckless gamble, a dangerous experiment in university funding with no precedent in British experience. Its different elements are incoherent.
  • While the Browne Review advocated a new funding model because of uncertainty over public funding, the present proposals will not produce stability. The uncertainty is switched to the ballooning student support arrangements necessary to maintain a fee-based system of loans and the Government’s overriding interest is now to reduce their cost.
  • It has parallels to the privatisation wrecking the financial solvency of high-quality public universities in the US (such as the University of California, where net private revenues have not covered the public funding lost through cuts despite upwardly spiralling tuition costs).
  • It had no vision for higher education, only a narrow emphasis on employment and education as an individual investment in human capital.
  • In contrast, it is necessary for higher education to “sustain a culture which demands disciplined thinking, encourages curiosity, challenges existing ideas and generates new ones; [and to] be part of the conscience of a democratic society, founded on respect for the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the individual to society as a whole” (Dearing Report, 1997).

There is no government mandate for the privatisation of higher education and for the despoiling of the social and cultural value of universities.

Contributions for the Alternative White Paper to: altwhitepaper [AT]

Closing date: 2nd September 2011

  1. sue mcpherson says:

    A sharp and accurate analysis in the response. It is vital we all stand together against the Coalition’s shambolic policy.

  2. Paul Elliott says:

    Sorry, but you haven’t, it seems to me, yet given a credible account of what’s happened in the last months – and years, and decades – to education and the universities.
    This is not a matter of policies without vision (“vision” and “visionary” are weasel words of managementspeak, as by the way is “excellence” – see e.g. Bill Readings, The University in Ruins).
    Education in the whole of the western world is moving in the same noxious direction as in Britain, regardless of whether right, left or centre governments have been in power. The whole of Europe – 47 countries – is now signed up to the ultra-reactionary Bologna Declaration, that works as a surveillance-and-control mechanism directly or indirectly corralling thousands of universities and their teachers and researchers.
    That’s why the issue is not one of policy or vision. It’s much deeper. We need, I should say, to look for an analysis in the direction of global developments in the capitalist labour process – especially the fragmentation of tasks, the externalization of knowledge (out of human heads, into computer systems, administrative systems and the like) – and the consequent declining need, among most of the population, regarded as employees or workers, for the kinds of skills (language skills, mathematical skills, problem-solving skills etc.) which used to be common in the working class, let alone the middle classes. This analysis applies to universities and their students. Dumbing-down is a rational – from the capitalist point of view – reaction to these labour-process developments. No executive committee of the ruling class spends cash on a production process (the production of students-with-a-diploma) that, from its point of view, is providing luxury quality. It will continuously cut that quality to the necessary bone. It is doing so. This, to repeat the point, is a global tendency rooted in the reality of capitalist production relations.
    Without an analysis of this kind, plans for a “visionary alternative” for higher education remain purely utopian. And utopianism is, in the end, however well-meaning, regressive.

  3. mark carrigan says:

    “without an analysis of this kind, plans for a “visionary alternative” for higher education remain purely utopian. And utopianism is, in the end, however well-meaning, regressive.”

    you seem to see the two things as mutually exclusive and, for the life of me, i have absolutely no idea why.

  4. Robert Gillett says:

    Isn’t it about time somebody mentioned that universities are also places where research happens? Students are indispensable to research not only because some of them will (hopefully) be conducting it in the future, but also because they constitute an untainted critical audience in the present. It is easy to offer cheap education to students if you take research out of the equation. But the education offered will be cheap, and the intellectual life of the country, including its economy, will be disastrously the poorer.

    I am also amazed that almost nobody takes the trouble to point out the fundamental flaw in the debate about Higher Education. Universities are not, and never have been, places which prepare people for employment. You do not need a degree in law to become a lawyer, and even a degree in medicine is only the first stage on the way to becoming a doctor. And the reason university graduates earn, on the sort of unreliable statistical average which is in itself virtually meaningless, more than those who do not have a degree is because, by and large, they come from those sections of society which have privileged access to the job market. There is no causal connection between having a degree and higher earnings. If there were, we would not need to give teachers special treatment in buying flats in London.


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