It’s now accepted that learning has to be profitable to be valid

Sussex University has decided to go private - and the students aren't happy

Mark Steel
Tuesday 12 February 2013 18:59
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Many people have expressed compassion for Chris Huhne, on the grounds that most of us at some time have committed a worse crime than speeding.

Huhne, for example, went into an election promising to scrap tuition fees and then decided to treble them, causing far more misery than his fibs about driving. Maybe, before he goes back to court to find out his punishment, the judge will pledge to scrap sentences for driving offences, then at the last minute change his mind and treble them instead. I’m sure Huhne would see the funny side.

Trebling fees was only the start of turning further education into a business. Sussex University is the latest to try this, privatising almost the entire place; security, porters, cleaning, starting with the catering, because when big business is in control of a food supply what could possibly go wrong? But this has provoked protests from students and the workforce, including an occupation of the conference centre. The university responded by locking them in, which strangely doesn’t seem to have calmed things down.

As this is one of the facilities to be sold off, the plan could be to keep the students there and market the room as a conference centre with an “uprising” theme. A brochure will boast: “Our unique space offers your business the opportunity to discuss strategies with a thrilling backdrop of water cannon being fired at students. ‘Our sales improved by 7 per cent after an uplifting session in which a physics student was chased by a tank,’ said Ken Sedgwick, South-east regional manager for Carpet Rite.”

If they get away with this scheme, others are sure to follow. Universities will be turned into Westfield Centres, with students taking notes on philosophy while working at the checkout at River Island. Maths lecturers will ask: “How do we express 70 per cent as a fraction? No, not seven tenths, it’s ‘We’ve got a whopping 30 per cent OFF that’s right, 30 PER CENT, here at Homebase we’ve gone ratio CRAZY’.” And chemistry experiments will be carried out by a company called WeHeatAnyMolecule.com

Welfare officers will listen to students struggling with coursework and say: “OK, I’d like you to focus on your strengths, accept it’s natural to be anxious, and realise that’s when you need New Improved Nurofen, because with Nurofen, remember, your appendix might burst but you’d still get a first.”

It’s become accepted amongst those in charge of education that learning has to be profitable to be valid. Learning a language or studying Ancient Egypt simply because that’s a brilliant thing to do is considered a crime against nature. So the protesters are doing all of us a favour, and when I met them yesterday, they seemed exuberant and enthusiastic, and far better company than you’d enjoy at your average business conference. If the government really trusted the free market, they’d charge people for being inspired by the protesters, and sack the idiots running the university.

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