Yes, folks, it’s come around again. The promises of negotiation and concessions that ended the last round of strikes in the UK higher education sector all came to nothing and meanwhile our pay has dropped still further against inflation and our pensions continue to grow in contribution and to shrink (now by a full third) in likely payback, so we have no resort left but further, and probably harder, industrial action. None of us want to be on strike; we would rather be left to do the jobs we do well, with some guarantee that that won’t turn out to be our worst long-term decision ever, but right now the only way to such a future seems to be through dispute and resistance, and so here we are (again), for three days this week and then working to contract till more strike action next year, all in the hope of getting something actually to change.
What this means for me is that firstly I have to stop work on my main project—strike during study leave is especially perverse, I think—and secondly that I am freed up to attend to some of the obligations which my obligations to my employers usually prevent. But one of them can be the blog, so what this means for you, my fortunate(?) readership, is that my digital picket is, if I can manage it, going to look like a blog-post for each day of the strike, not counting this post. I will admit that today’s is going be a slight one, because I need to get my physical and metaphorical house in order today, but still, whether you are also on strike with me or merely watching from the sidelines, at least you’ll have something to read!
I was never prepared to bugger my students about as a protest against – what? The fat cats who have taken over the running of universities? But they don’t much care. Look how they have buggered the students about throughout the pandemic.
Advice to young-enough historians reading this blog – do not go into academic life. Find a better career for yourself.
An old pal of mine inherited a tidy sum. He decided to give up academic life and live off his capital. After a few years he decided he missed research and teaching so took an academic job again. He found that he couldn’t bear the hassle of bureaucracy and managerialism and once again resigned. He seems perfectly happy with this decision.
Yup, there is a potential future here in which the ones who can formulate an alternative career path take it, those presumably being the brightest and best, and only the ones who had no hope elsewhere are left to steer the ship into whatever bureaucratic Bermuda Triangle it is headed.
A much older colleague once told me that he thought the modern Golden Age for British academics was mid-1950s to late 1960s. Anyone who entered the game after that had missed the boat. I expect his terminal date was related to this:
Shirley Williams spent over two years as the Minister of State for Education and Science (1967-69) … [and] produced a list of 13 points, designed to help deliver savings while maintaining quality:
A reduction or removal of student grant-aid, coupled with a system of loans;
A similar policy at the postgraduate level only;
A more restrictive policy as regards the admission of overseas students;
the requirement that grant-aided students should enter specified kinds of employment for a period after graduation, which might have the effect of reducing applications;
The greater use of part-time and correspondence courses as alternatives to full-time courses;
The possibility that the most able should have the opportunity to complete a degree course in two years;
The possibility of some students not proceeding to the customary three-year course, but to a different course lasting only two years and leading to a different qualification;
The possible insertion of a period between school and university, which would give school-leavers a better opportunity to formulate their views as to whether or not they wished to proceed to some form of higher education;
The more intensive use of buildings and equipment, including the possibility of reorganisation of the academic year;
More sharing of facilities between adjacent institutions;
More home-based students;
The development of student housing associations, and other forms of loan-financed provision for student residence;
Some further increase in student/staff ratios.
There’s little new under the sun.
I met Baroness Williams a few times, in fact, because she was a patron of a society I was involved with as an undergraduate. Whether she’d have stood by her views of the 1960s in the 1990s I don’t know; I didn’t know then that she’d had those views. And some of that is very familiar from right now, in particular the idea of the modularisation of study—which I myself am not sure is a bad idea, in so far as it might actually help with the revenue problem most universities have without the disastrous effects that uncapping fees would have—but some of it is quite different to the current direction of travel. Some of that is simply because hers was a notionally socialist government: so student housing associations and sharing of facilities where the current régime instead wants collaboration with the private sector, this we can explain simply on political principles (and how unusual that is, that phrase, in this day and age!). But the one that really strikes me is the downer on international students. Presumably the thought then was that even having them here was dragging quality down? So we have explicit structural racism on the one hand, but on the other hand an implicit idea of what quality actually was and that it was worth protecting; but now we have structural racism operated through the visa system but denied at all other levels, and no idea what quality in higher education is but a belief that the market will somehow generate it even though universities are not allowed to operate in the free market. Little indeed is new under the sun; but not all of that is what we have now.
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