As the Sussex Uni occupation shows, Government may see education as a market, but students do not

The Government's higher education policy is supposedly about cutting red tape, yet it requires a new army of six-figure-salaried bureaucrats to outsource existing jobs.

Share

The mood amongst students that have occupied a University of Sussex conference room is exuberant but serious. Effectively barricaded in since last Thursday, without heating or reliable access to food, there is an acute awareness of the gravity of their undertaking. ‘We’re here as a last resort,’ laments Adriano, one of the occupiers. ‘Everyone here shares a sense of frustration – we’ve held discussions, petitions, demonstrations, meetings and boycotts, but they haven’t listened to our concerns.’

Education outsourced

‘They’ refers to the university management and their decision to privatise 235 jobs including services such as catering, cleaning, security and porters. For students, the most immediate worry is that their wellbeing will be compromised by unaccountable private companies whose primary motive is profit.  For the 235 workers, private tendering breeds suspicion that job security, pay, pensions, conditions and terms will be put under threat once outsourced. If precedents of outsourcing at universities are any indication, such fears may well be justified.

Sentiments of solidarity between workers and students are strong. In many ways, the movement is a testament to the very sense of community that these outsourcing proposals threaten. This unity is rooted in a shared sense of frustration – among both students and staff – with the University’s intransigence, evasion and lack of consultation. There is also widespread mistrust of a management that has in the past shown no qualms over doling out redundancies, slashing welfare, or resorting to heavy handed tactics in the face of dissent.

Students as consumers

The disregard for workers' and students' concerns is emblematic of a wider ‘paradigm shift’ in higher education. Under the Damocles sword of deficit realism – the idea that ‘there is no alternative’ to ‘efficiency savings’ and ‘cost-cutting’ – British universities are being reformed along market lines. The trebling of tuition fees has cracked open public universities to competition from private capital while a concomitant removal of public funding has placed greater emphasis on securing corporate donations for teaching and research. Marketization works both ways - for their part universities are dabbling in the property market while issuing bonds secured against incomes from tuition fees. In this context, the outsourcing of services to private providers is a further transferal of ownership and control over universities from public to private hands

This restructuring has been accompanied and legitimised by a wholesale redefinition of what education means. Cherished values and social goods such as learning, critical inquiry and student welfare have been replaced by commercial imperatives of profit, competitiveness and efficiency. Students are now defined as consumers with university degrees products. One immediate consequence of this redefinition has seen swathes of course closures in ‘uncompetitive’ disciplines such as philosophy, linguistics and history in favour of ‘economically viable’ courses such as business studies. For those courses that do remain, the infiltration of private capital into teaching and research agendas threatens to undermine treasured (albeit imperfect) principles of academic freedom.

The new bureaucrats

Another altogether more sinister product of this ‘paradigm shift’ relates to how this control and ownership over academia is being transferred. As the Sussex occupation shows, the privatization of a public university is far from an uncontested process. Accordingly, marketisation requires a committed cadre of administrators tasked with enforcing reforms. Universities Minister David Willets, for example, has long acted as a conduit for corporate access to the public sector, meeting regularly with for-profit education firms in the run up to the publication of the 2011 Higher Education White Paper. Operating below Willets is a squadron of Vice Chancellors across British universities who carry out the concrete work of raising fees, cutting jobs, courses and amenities, opening university departments to private funding, and outsourcing services. Ironically then for an ideology obsessed with cutting red-tape, neoliberalismin education begets its bureaucratisation (at Sussex, there has been a radical expansion of managers, with no less than 31 individuals now on six figure salaries). It is the machinations of this coercive intersection of markets and bureaucracy that the students and staff are increasingly coming up against.

Such is the power of these interests that all might appear lost, especially when considered against the series of defeats within the student movement since 2010. But there is optimism. The occupation is but the latest action in a vibrant and popular grassroots campaign that has linked students, faculty and service staff in common action. Hundreds of students and staff have shown solidarity by wearing square yellow badges pinned to their lapels. Academic staff have also been displaying yellow posters in their office windows. These symbols evoke the victories of the 2012 Quebec student strike, while participants keenly recall the co-ordinated action that brought to a halt London Metropolitan University plans to outsource jobs.

The memories of these past struggles fuels the feeling that when caught between the irresistible force of marketization and the unmovable object of bureaucracy, resistance through direct action is perhaps the most realistic option. It also suggests that, despite numerous setbacks, the movement against the marketization of universities is potentially ready to regroup with renewed vigour and determination. Indeed, shivering against the freezing Brighton night Adriano insists that despite the cold, ‘morale has never been higher. And we’re not going to give up.’

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor