This morning I caught the end of a story on the BBC news which concluded ‘The government says it wants universities to treat students more like consumers’. I respond by emitting an exclamation which cannot be repeated in polite language. How long have we been suffering from this worse than asinine instrumentalism? This kind of consumerisation is the negation of all pedagogic values, which depend on a dialogue between teacher and pupil which does not exist between buyer and seller. Teaching and learning are not separate processes but a dialectic. To ignore this is a violation of the student’s humanity, a denial of the hope that education offers to intelligence and imagination (or what’s left of them after getting through the school system). I therefore refuse to comply. To do so I should consider to be a dereliction of my responsibility as a professor to show academic leadership.

Checking the BBC website I learn that this comes from a speech by Business Secretary Mandelson to the CBI, who said that there should be ‘a greater degree of competition between institutions’.
This is what the Thatcherites wanted, and look at the damage they did by imposing new forms of managerialism on higher education (
a topic I wrote about some twelve years ago). But what a pretty pass has been reached when universities are considered a business under the remit of a Business Secretary who continues to promote as solutions to the recession the very policies which helped to create it.

It seems he also said in this speech that ‘If there are people, or approaches or systems that are failing then we have got to be prepared to call time on those people or those systems or those approaches.’ This, Mr Mandelson, applies to yourself, and the government you belong to. Only don’t hold your breath that whatever government replaces them next year will be any better.

1 November 2009 09:10

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