Listening to ‘Christine’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees at work I find it suddenly and weirdly morphing into ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’ by Stevie Wonder (was he still Little Stevie Wonder then … ?) After a couple of second’s cognitive dissonance I realise the Stevie track is coming from outside so I lean out the window and witness a modestly-sized but determined demo wending its way past our building. It turns out to be the Reclaim the Uni crowd who have apparently been admirably vocal of late, disrupting finance meetings at The University of Manchester and generally causing a ruckus about the campus.
Good for them. The cost of education has ballooned and not everyone feels they’re getting value for money. Falling contact hours and inadequate study resources are sticking in the craw of those stretched to the limit to pay for it all. I have a wodge of debt myself from my three year stint (much good has it done me, I still don’t earn enough to pay back the loans) but it’s nothing like the five figure whoppers today’s students incur. If you (or your family) are paying all that money and putting a serious dint in your finances to do it, you deserve a decent service back. If they want to turn Universities into corporations and students into consumers, well, consumers have rights and they’re going to shout about them.
I recall reading in Naomi Klein’s No Logo of the despair amongst American academics at the laissez faire attitude of their students to University life, swanning into lectures halfway through, sipping lattes bought at the campus branch of Starbucks. It’s a pretty depressing notion, but that’s consumerism for you. Under this system it seems they will have to water down degrees in order to keep up demand and the appearance of high quality teaching; a degree might not look so desirable when you need two jobs to get through it, it sets you back a decade on the property ladder and there’s no guarantee of a decent starting salary either.
They have to find a way to maximise hours fairly and boost access to resources to complement the death of free education otherwise they’ll eventually be forced to dish out meaningless degrees like so many Chancellor’s platitudes. But lots of people want the education they’re paying for, not some watered-down degree to wave under people’s noses. It seems the concept of a free education was devalued virtually under our noses in a couple of generations. How did it happen?