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  • Published in Education

Des Freedman, one of the editors of the The Assault on Universities, explains why the Higher Education Manifesto is important, and how we can use it to defend education against marketisation. The book is being launched at Housmans Bookshop on Wednesday, 23rd November.

Michael Bailey and Des Freedman, eds, The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance (Pluto Press 2011), 182pp.

It is nearly six months since we initially started collecting signatures for the manifesto opposing the marketisation of our universities and demanding increased funding for and democratic governance of our universities. The manifesto has now been signed by nearly 1,000 academics, administrators and researchers from the UK and abroad. The demands tapped into a growing anger about the ways in which neoliberal governments are determined to privatise the fabric and finance of the university system
and the utter failure of university managements to stop this (or in some cases, eagerly to facilitate this).

In England, we saw the publication of the Universities White Paper at the end of June which provides a road map for the further marketisation and instrumentalisation of higher education. The proposals it outlines (the entrance of private providers, the partitioning of the sector into an ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ tier with a very squeezed middle, the price-fixing and the obsession with employability above any other values) are precisely the ones that were outlined by many contributors to The Assault on
Universities in which the manifesto is contained.

So we face a real battle for the future of our universities: one that needs to be faced up to by staff and students uniting together to roll back the march of market forces inside our institutions. But we also need to demand much more: that, as with other areas of public services and welfare that are being cut to pay for an economic crisis they did not cause, universities must not be turned into playthings for neoliberal experimentation or for international finance.

The Manifesto

Demands on Government:

* Increase proportion of UK public expenditure devoted to higher education to at least the EU19 average of 1.1 per cent (up from 0.7 per cent) – a move that would bring in billions of pounds to the sector.
* Restoration of maintenance grants and abolition of fees to be paid for through an increase in corporation tax and an increase to the top level of personal income tax.
* Restoration of the block grant for all subjects.
* Scrapping of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and its replacement with a way of monitoring research work based on respect for the ability of individuals and groups of researchers to define their own research aims and priorities.
* Scrapping of the National Student Survey and other forms of evaluation which perpetuate cultures of ‘customer satisfaction’ and quality control, and their replacement with forms of feedback that encourage meaningful reflection on teaching and learning.
* Scrapping of the Points Based System of Immigration as it affects the higher education sector and a halt to punitive measures affecting the free movement of international staff and students.

Demands on Universities:

* Commitment by employers to nationally agreed terms and conditions for all staff and recognition of trade unions to negotiate these terms and conditions.
* Commitment by employers to address the gender pay gap with immediate effect.
* A commitment to staff/student ratios at the OECD average or better.
* Commitment by employers to move away from the use of hourly-paid contracts for teachers and to offer permanent contracts after two consecutive years of teaching.
* Salaries of senior staff and vice-chancellors to be fixed as part of a nationally agreed scale with an income differential, as suggested by Citizens UK, of no more than a multiple of ten.
* Universities to adopt mission statements, relevant to each institution, that recognise the obligation of institutions to foster independent and critical thought, to ensure access to the university for all social groups, and to seek the participation of the local community in the life of the university.
* Democratisation of governing bodies through the allocation of equal votes to staff and student representatives, community members, and employers’ representatives.
* An end wherever possible to the outsourcing of university services including catering, cleaning, international student recruitment, and sickness absence reporting; where outsourcing does take place, a commitment only to consider companies who recognise trade unions and who pay a Living Wage.
* Commitment by employers to affordable, on-campus childcare provision.
* Extension of the remit of research ethics committees to consider, with teeth, the ethics of research for the arms trade, the military and the nuclear industry.
* Pledge by universities not to accept donations from individuals or regimes that refuse to sign a statement on academic freedom that guarantees the right of academics and researchers in the ‘donor’ countries to teach and research without fear of state intervention.

Housmans Bookshop is launching The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance on Wednesday, 23rd November, 7pm. More details can be found here. The Higher Education Manifesto can be signed here. To order a copy for only £9.99 including free UK P&P simply visit: http://bit.ly/pluuni.

Tagged under: Education
Des Freedman

Des Freedman

Des Freedman is Professor of Media and Communications in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of 'The Contradictions of Media Power' (Bloomsbury 2014), co-editor of 'The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance' (Pluto 2011), Vice-President of Goldsmiths UCU and former Chair of the Media Reform Coalition.

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