Confessions Of An Academic

by A. Cademic
on Monday 15 Aug 2011

type: Opinion/Analysis
topic: Anti-Cuts
region: South West

A few weeks ago, staff in my Department were summoned to a three day seminar to discuss how we can survive the new regime. This has become necessary because are being held to an enforced workload model, one that does not allow us to deliver the same quality of education that we have done previously. At the seminar, we were advised to cut our assessments radically. This has been done for most modules on our B.A. Hons courses. For example, assigned work for assessments for one second year module have been reduced by 30%. Virtually all module assessments have been reduced and this percentage of reduction is not uncommon. Effectively, this represents a 'dumbing down' of what is required for students to pass their degree. 

Vital staff are being made redundant (or have accepted Enhanced Voluntary Redundancy) and are not being replaced. In my Dept, the teaching of a highly qualified Hourly Paid Lecturer with specialist knowledge of the history of avante guard film, is being replaced with teaching by a Technical Instructor whose proposed list of 50 films, all Hollywood, included only two female directors. When this was queried, the response was, "Oh, I hadn't thought about that". Hmmn. So much for the critical aspects of theorised practice!  

Another HPL, (PhD. many publications) who was the sole person supplying specific support on academic essay writing for students across the whole University, has just been made redundant and will not be replaced. Everywhere we look, the quality of education is greatly reduced at exactly the time that student fees are being tripled. We are also in complete disarray because of administrative reorganisation engendered by the cuts.

And, below, a diatribe about the riots:
Let's hope that four days of rioting will help us to topple or, at least, re-direct this government!  Maybe da Yoof can do what the unions and students and the ballot box have failed to do. This has been much worse than the Brixton riots during the last Tory austerity measure madness (Thatcher's cuts to services for the poor) much worse because these riots were countrywide: Liverpool, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Gloucester, Bristol, to name just a few.

I mean, fancy cutting funding to youth clubs, libraries, swimming pools, parks, and student travel for FE education all at the same time when there are virtually no jobs worth having for uneducated young people. What did they expect the kids to do: sit at home playing last year's Play station games? The violence is not justifiable but it is understandable and inevitable. Inevitable when there is a mob mentality and so much anger from the deadly combination of pressure to consume conspicuously and not enough to go around. The tragedy is that rioters targeted blameless individuals. And, as always, the poor suffer the most. A great many people in this country are facing having to choose between heating and eating this winter and there is not a penny to spare for most families. And, of course, the redundancies and gas and electricity price rises have only just started to affect us.  The UK is not the only country that has been inflicting an extreme neo-liberal austerity agenda. Like the Tories, other governments, are using the current civil unrest to justify draconian measures. They are trying to control social networking and to limit the right to gather for protest, etc. These measures will attack people’s ability to communicate with each other and organise for change.   Could this be the real agenda for the swinging implementation of cuts: a sharp swing to the right???  A reduction in democratic rights and the creation of a new 'slave' class would suit many at the top of our hegemony. That way, when immigrants are sent home, there will still be people to clean for the rich for a pittance.

An 11 year old girl has just been given a £50 fine and a supervision order for stealing a bottle of wine. This is Victorian!  Leaving the court, her mother cursed reporters. Can you blame her??  There is little point in fining or punishing the parents of these children as often they, too, are part of a lost 'underclass' generation.  It could be too late to expect them to teach their children what they never learned. Pride in their own culture and a celebration of street creativity and the widening of opportunity should be fostered now more than ever but the programs which nurture this have almost all been cut.
As for encouraging parents to turn in their own children' I would have thought the Tories could think of less Maoist model with less reliance on the state for discipline. And, yes, we do need more discipline in the schools - which means smaller classes, more qualified teachers, better infrastructure and more support for troubled children. We do need a change in values, which means less worship of mammon and more alternatives to celebrity culture fostered by more support for the arts.

So, which government will provide the enhanced cultural activities and options we need for the young, which government will support proper mentoring and a real change towards a Big Society (which is actually a small one in which individuals are enabled to make things better for themselves and those around them)? Not this Government, clearly!
The courts, compensation and clean up from these riots will cost soooo much more than the cuts to education and support programs for the poor will have saved but then, the speed and nature of these cuts was always ideologically driven. Funny how the widening gap between rich and poor in the UK over the past 30 years isn't seen as relevant. Funny how the similarities with the Arab Spring, (people fed up with the poverty of opportunity of their lives leading to inarticulate, angry young men resorting to violence) isn't seen as connected. Funny how we applaud it abroad and condemn it at home.

The markets know extreme measures are unworkable, which is why I suspect there will be no stable recovery; not until enough people have enough money to afford to spend some of it on anything other than necessities. There is little likelihood of that happening under the present government.