UCU NEC member and President of UCU Scotland, Douglas Chalmers, took time out to attend the 3rd Convention on Higher Education, following the last HEC in London. Here are his impressions of this useful meeting
An audience of up to a 100 listened to speakers at the 3rd Convention for Higher Education in UCL’s Darwin lecture theatre today where educational experts, UCU activists and others condemned the proposals in the UK government’s Higher Education and Research Bill.
John Holmwood opened events by a devastating critique of the proposals, declaring that ‘it’s the nature of the public university that’s at the heart of this discussion’. Member of the House of Lords and professor of public sector management at Kings College London, Baroness Alison Wolf, went on to condemn the flimsy ‘cod’ market economics underpinning the proposals, pointing out that what she called a ‘very underdeveloped form of economic thinking’ had come to dominate the debate’ which was ‘ a genuine step in the wrong direction’.
Martin McQuillan of Kingston University pointed out that the whole fees debacle which would now be exacerbated was a ‘question of intergenerational justice’, and he castigated the universities for being ‘on the wrong side of the public debate’.
Amber Rudd’s proposals to cut international students to all but Russell group universities were roundly condemned by all speakers – as were the efforts by some in the Russell group itself to lobby in support of these divisive proposals.
Malia Bouattia, NUS president suggested that the prospect of ‘market exits’ by some of the proposed new providers which would fail (as some inevitably would), might be seen by Teresa May as a sign that the ‘market was working well’.
She finished by saying the proposals could still be defeated, and quoted James Baldwin in saying “Those who say it cannot be done are usually interrupted by those doing it”
The conference also heard and condemned the current situation at London Met university, and also spent a useful session looking at the joint work that could be done in different areas, to help weaken the Bill and work towards defeating it.