Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Only A Flesh Wound


- when we academics feel ashamed of our intellectual culture, we naturally hesitate to explain it - who, after all, cares? - gerald graff - clueless in academe p35 -

I'm very scared.  I love my current jobs tutoring at two universities, I love teaching.  I love going to conferences and speaking, and debating from the audience, and, when I get the chance, I love having papers published in the hope that I can contribute to arguments moving from a small select group and into the hands of whoever might be interested, whoever might be able to make them more useful.  I would like to carry on doing all of these things that I love after I finish my PhD next September, and I would like to get better at them in the hopes that eventually, after much practice, I will have something significant to offer students, conference attendees, and anyone who reads my work.  I'm confident that accruing and trying to share the best knowledge and ideas that I can muster over a lifetime is a worthwhile goal as I have the utmost respect for, and can see the good done by people who have sought and gone on to find the same.

I'm scared because these things, these attempts, take time, work, and luck.  I can't control the latter, but I'd just started to learn that I had to always try and make it the smallest contributor to any success that I had.  But now I'm beginning to realise that as of this Wednesday, October 20th, I may have far less control over the first two, and be forced to lay my hopes on this last capricious element.

As someone who would like to be an academic I need to be in an academic environment if I am to progress.  Such an environment would require dedicating my time and work to teaching and publishing research, the exact things that I would like to progress in, which is, I admit, very convenient.  As a PhD student with some funding and some jobs I have a fairly decent amount of time, and a fairly decent amount of energy to dedicate to getting into such an environment, and I have long been informed that the usual triad of time, work, and luck is what it will take.  And if I do my best to minimise the luck then I don't mind failing on those terms.  Too lazy to put in the work or time?  Well I missed my chance.  Fine.  Not nice, but fine, get back to work, have another crack, learn from my mistakes.

A few weeks back I saw the following in a call to protest by Sally Hunt, the General Secretary of the University and College Union:

"university teaching and research budgets are to be slashed [by the UK's coalition government] even more than previously anticipated…800,000 learners and 20,000 teaching jobs will be lost in FE if the government pushes ahead with funding cuts of 40 per cent in the forthcoming spending review. In higher education the media are reporting plans to slash university teaching budgets by up to three-quarters and even of letting some universities go to the wall. Yet as our competitors understand, now is not the time to be cutting back on education spending. Others are investing to expand while we cut courses, jobs and undermine our future prosperity" (full open letter here)

Hunt said this on the 1st of October, nearly 3 weeks before the official announcement of the depth of the cuts, and many wrote it off as idle speculation based on hazy media reports.

The BBC reported on a leaked email yesterday, two days before the official figures will be announced, which appears to confirm much of this month's early speculation - it looks like the HE teaching budget may be cut by 79%, or £3.2bn, with a further £1bn taken away from research.  As the BBC states "[a] £4.2bn cut in funding would be almost four times that which universities had been expected to make by the previous government."

We find out on Wednesday if this all proves to be idle speculation.  Maybe the cuts aren't so deep, maybe they're sensitive to balancing arguable economic necessity with the importance of a well educated population capable of the innovation which might help to support itself in the future (not that all education and innovation occurs in and around universities, just that some does, and that it is of a type which is hard to cultivate elsewhere).

But I'm scared.  Scared because I think I can feel which way this is going to go, scared that my worst fears about this government's attitude towards education, towards thought, towards fairness and support, will be amply born out.  I'm selfishly scared that stepping out into such a climate I might not (probably will not) get to do what I really want to, what I'll have put eight years of work, time, luck, and money into, scared that I'll fail on terms I couldn't have predicted or accounted for - the absence of jobs to even apply to.  But I'm also scared of what comes next, for everyone here, because these aren't the only cuts coming, and students and teachers are certainly not the only ones who will feel them.  What is economically and culturally sustainable?  What is the bare minimum on which we can sustain the best that we have cultivated?  And how did we let it get to here, to where we have to ask these questions?

Whatever universities are left will run courses on this.

1 comment:

helen bell said...

i teach on a Foundation Degree in Performing Arts. or at least I do 'til tomorrow.
i've come to terms with all the political stuff now. i mean, who really needs the Arts, or those softy subjects like Film Studies? and who needs, God forbid, education for education's sake?

come on. we all know, education is just to enable us to get a job. a proper job to make money for the country. in science or finance.
i need to pull myself together and re-train to be a vet before the funding runs out.

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