As a result of the cut-backs to Universities’ teaching budgets by up to 80 per cent, it is likely that Higher Education in the UK will be split into a two-tier system. The idea that top tier institutions and members of staff working at these institutions are unaffected by these cuts is, however, a dangerous illusion. Only joint resistance against these cuts across all institutions in Higher and Further Education, organised through the University and College Union (UCU) which organises the whole sector, will provide an opportunity to prevent or at least obstruct these developments.
As part of its general cuts to public sector services, the current ConDem government will cut 80 per cent of Universities’ teaching budgets. In return, Universities are allowed to charge students fees of up to £9000 per year in the future. Nevertheless, not all Universities will be able to attract enough students at the top level of fees. Some may not even be able to charge a high enough level of fees, which would allow them to compensate for government cuts. As a result, Higher Education in the UK is likely to be split into a two-tier system with the top tier being able to charge the full £9000 and being able to continue with both teaching and research, while the second tier may have to cut back and focus more exclusively on teaching only. Mergers of Universities and some closures are likely. UCU estimates that 6211 jobs are either already lost or at risk across institutions of Further and Higher Education.
It would, however, be a dangerous illusion for members of staff at universities in the top tier such as Nottingham University to think that the cuts to funding would not affect them. First, the ever increasing pressure on demonstrating the direct ‘use’ or applicability of teaching and research, understood in a very narrow way and driven by an anti-intellectual agenda, will affect research and teaching at all institutions. Second, the general downgrading of Arts and Humanities and potentially also Social Sciences – all subjects perceived to be of less economic relevance – in the overall distribution of funds will affect equally Universities in the top tier. Moreover, the defence of working conditions and salaries will be much more difficult, if there is a second tier with less good conditions. Finally, the move towards high levels of tuition fees will significantly change students’ expectations. Overall, the nature and ultimately the fundamental ethos of university education is likely to change drastically.
In order to resist these developments, resistance needs to be organised across the top and second tier of universities as well as across the divide between Universities and Further Education institutions. UCU, which organises members of staff across these areas, is well placed to lead this struggle. Combined with efforts by student groups, a formidable challenge to current cuts is possible at the local - see the recent Open Forum at Nottingham University - and national level.
Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ldzab
4 February 2011