Sunday, 5 June 2011

The next step towards fully privatising higher education

A C Grayling, the philosopher, author, and academic, has established the New College for the Humanities. The private university will include Richard Dawkins and Niall Ferguson in its staff roster. But whilst the official aim is to "inspire the next generation of lawyers, journalists, financiers, politicians, civil servants, writers and teachers," the reality is that it only deepens the chasm of class division.

Grayling, according to the Guardian, "admitted the business model might seem unusual" when the professors involved are largely "pink around the gills and a little bit left of centre." Though I would argue that being a liberal doesn't equate to being left-of-centre, and as a grouping such people are generally blind to questions of class and particularly class conflict.

The further irony is that Dawkins has previously spoken out against private education at a high school level - specifically the City Academies - for the segregation that it allows for by allowing anybody to establish a school and run it as they see fit. However, he was referring specifically to the fact that said system had given rise to numerous faith schools. It seems that segregation and unaccountability are fine when religion is replaced by the profit motive.

There should be no mistake that this is at the heart of the venture. Grayling says that setting up the college was a response to the question of "how we can cope with these cuts." For him, this marks the difference between "stand[ing] on the sidelines deploring what is happening" and "jump[ing] in and do[ing] something about it."

But if Grayling really wanted to challenge the cuts that have made "it get more and more difficult" to provide a quality education, there were many things he could have done. Rather than "stand on the sidelines," he might have joined his fellow academics in their recent strike action - or supported the wave of student occupations around the demonstrations last November.

Indeed, if he felt that the only choice was to break away from public sector education, then he might have tried to establish what most students and other protesters were fighting for - free education for all. Instead, "inspired in part by the business model of American Ivy League universities," he has gone for the opposite. Whilst he may have been motivated to break away by the cuts, that motivation has only led him to continue what they were doing. That is, pricing the poor out of education.

The supposed counterpoint to this is that "an endowment fund is being established" so as to grant scholarships to up to one in three of the students attending. But this, again, only pushes us further towards the US model. There, most people lack the financial means to go the university without a scholarship - yet they are already difficult to obtain and that difficulty has only increased with the recession. In Britain, with austerity measures beginning to bite, inflation racing ahead of income, and both job losses and repossessions on the rise, conditions are ripe for exactly the same trend to be replicated straight away. Especially as New College's endowment fund isn't yet up-and-running.

However it dresses itself up, and whatever lofty intentions may be behind it, all that New College represents is another step in the closing off of education to most ordinary people. It is the initiative of liberals concerned only with preserving an area of academia. In the arena of class struggle, and particularly for the longer-term goal of liberating and democratising education, it has nothing to offer.