Marina Warner compares UK university managers to 'Chinese communist enforcers'

Novelist and former professor in the Department of Literature, Film & Theatre Studies at the University of Essex launches a scathing attack

The chair of judges for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize has delivered a blistering broadside against her former university employers comparing higher education managers to unquestioningly obedient Chinese communist officials.

Writing in the London Review of Books, Marina Warner said she felt “pushed” into resigning her role earlier this summer as a professor in the department of literature, film and theatre studies at the University of Essex where she had taught for the past decade.

The acclaimed author and academic accused institutions of being forced into competing against each like high street supermarkets in the search for profits.

She said changes to the higher education sector had resulted in “one-size-fits-all contracts, inflexible timetables, overflowing workloads, overcrowded classes” which were harming teachers and students whilst benefiting the growing armies of administrators.

“Among the scores of novels I am reading for the Man Booker International are many Chinese novels, and the world of Chinese communist corporatism, as ferociously depicted by their authors, keeps reminding me of higher education here, where enforcers rush to carry out the latest orders from their chiefs in an ecstasy of obedience to ideological principles which they do not seem to have examined, let alone discussed with the people they order to follow them, whom they cashier when they won’t knuckle under,” she wrote.

Ms Warner, who is also a fellow of All Souls Oxford, accused Essex of becoming a “for-profit” enterprise and betraying its radical founding principles which saw it become a hotbed of counter cultural protest in the 1960s and 70s.

She said that research was no longer a guarantor of external funding and that the emphasis had been put on increasing student numbers.

“So the tactics to bring in money are changing. Students, especially foreign students who pay higher fees, offer a glittering solution,” she wrote.

Ms Warner said she eventually decided to resign after being asked to take a year’s unpaid leave when her “workload allocation” became impossible to reconcile with her outside roles, which she said she had been encouraged to accept.

“The model for higher education mimics supermarkets’ competition on the high street; the need for external funding pits one institution against another – and even one colleague against another, and young scholars waste their best energies writing grant proposals.

“Eventually, after a protracted rigmarole, I resigned. I felt I had been pushed,” she added.

“What is happening at Essex reflects on the one hand the general distortions required to turn a university into a for-profit business – one advantageous to administrators and punitive to teachers and scholars – and on the other reveals a particular, local interpretation of the national policy. The senate and councils of a university like Essex, and most of the academics who are elected by colleagues to govern, have been caught unawares by their new masters, their methods and their assertion of power,” she wrote.

A spokesman for the university said: “At the University of Essex, students are our priority and we are committed to delivering a transformational educational experience, where students are taught by the leading thinkers in their field and have the opportunity to undertake research. Excellence in education and research are our two priorities and they enjoy equal esteem.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn