This week is my last-ever week as an employed person. In a month or so, I’ll have hopefully set up my business and be one of the self-employed grinding the sole of my shoe on the faces of the masses. That is if Chairman Mao is to be believed!
I decided to accept a fairly generous package to leave the lumpen polytechniat for a number of reasons. Financially, it was a good move and I’ve always fancied being my own boss. In addition, I can put CEO on my new passport which is quite a good bragging right. Also, I wasn’t at all happy about the ConDem’s threat to my pension; did I want to pay more, work for more years and receive less? Throw in the fact that the rest of my life is truly my own – no commuting, no meetings and no other annoying factors of corporate life- and the deal was very tempting.
However, it wasn’t the driving reason. I’ve always loved teaching and it has been a great experience meeting, and hopefully influencing, so many bright students over the years. I’ve been taught and influenced by them in return. Likewise, I had many, very good colleagues who are committed to doing a great job. All of which is fine and dandy. As I said, I love teaching and I believe it is the greatest job in the world.
Sadly, Higher Education is not what it was when I started. Then there were 36 weeks to an academic year and for 30 of those weeks the students received around 26 hours contact time. Now, there are 30 weeks and students get 12 hours contact time for 24 weeks. The other 6 weeks is for examinations and assessment. We can thank the last Labour Goverment for this because they followed the relentless, and unsustainable strategy, of expansion of student numbers. Our HE system was designed to handle the academic elite but has been transformed into a mass provider without adequate funding or resources. Contact (teaching) hours go down while staff: student ratios rocket as institutions struggle to balance the books. It is no wonder that standards drop.
It gets worse. The Coalition have stopped all funding, other than for STEM subjects, leaving undergraduates from 2012 to pick up the tab. They are also cutting PhD and Masters funding via the research councils. As a consequence, all HE institutions are concentrating on getting funds from other sources e.g. research and consultancy with industry. The academics will be tasked with doing this extra work as well as doing their current levels of teaching and research. This is unrealistic at best unless the number of undergraduates falls significantly. But that would mean less money coming in and the vicious circle continuing.
I believe the end result will be the destruction of HE in the UK: students will pay more for a worse education, academic rigour will plummet as the focus will be “recruit and retain at all costs”, academics will be driven to generate external income which means the focus on teaching will disappear while the only research that will be done will be in the popular, cash-cow areas. Farewell, “blue-sky” research because it is not immediately marketable, farewell to most un-biased research because we can’t bite the hand that feeds us, farewell the free flow of knowledge because it costs money to find things out.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with the Coalition is cutting back on the number of visas for foreign students (i.e. cash cows) and allowing competition in the form of private companies being able to award degrees. Market solutions don’t work in education but, if they have to be imposed, at least give HE a chance to compete on an equal footing. Big Mac, fries and a degree ready to go!
So I decided to quit while I had a job I could still be proud of. I think I’m a fairly honest, moral man and I have no desire to be party to a system that will, of necessity, cheat future students to survive or charge for knowledge. Cheat is a strong word but I don’t know of another that fits the bill; £9k pa for an inferior experience and education really is not a good deal for them or the country.