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The Assault on Universities: A Review

Is there a worse possible fate for Canadian universities than the imminent future bearing down on universities in the UK? A 100 per cent cut to teaching grants for the humanities and social sciences; tripling of tuition fees to £9,000; up to 40,000 jobs lost and 49 universities (out of 130) at risk of closure.

These developments, set to go into effect in fall 2012, will add to the problems facing universities in light of recent cuts of £1 billion and the ongoing sector marketization and privatization via reforms first introduced by New Labour. These processes include the real or perceived corruption of the academy via the pandering to donors, such as the scandal surrounding the £1.5 million donation from a charitable foundation run by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the late Libyan leader, to the London School of Economics.

Such changes will compound the decade-plus impact of research and teaching ‘assessments’ on universities that have led to the wholesale closures of departments, including traditional academic subjects such as biology and English, because of ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ performances in research or teaching or in attracting students.

The blind faith in market fundamentalism has evolved via the last 15 years of higher education policy into a ‘logic’ that means even a top performance rating will not guarantee your survival.

No story encapsulates this disastrous logic better than the closure of Middlesex University’s philosophy department and its flagship, world renowned Centre for Research into Modern European Philosophy in 2010, despite earning the highest performance research grade (5P). Middlesex will continue to collect £175,000 per year in additional funding for quality over the next four years.2

The arts and humanities dean’s justification for the closure was “… that, it made ‘no measurable contribution’ to the university” (p. 21) or, in other words, it “brought in a lower per capita income … and therefore seemed uneconomical.” (p. 23)

This logic, which can undermine even the most successful and prestigious of programs, is reflected in the “rise of McKinseyism, the doctrine that things that cannot be measured have no value.” (p. 21)


To read more of this review of The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, edited by Michael Bailey and Des Freedman, London: Pluto Press, 2011, please go to The CAUT Bulletin, Vol.59, no.5 (May 2012): [http://www.cautbulletin.ca/en_article.asp?SectionID=1405&SectionName=Bookshelf&VolID=342&VolumeName=No%205&VolumeStartDate=5/11/2012&EditionID=36&EditionName=Vol%2059&EditionStartDate=1/19/2012&ArticleID=3484]

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