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"London Calling", Michael Meranze, professeur à Berkeley, exprime son soutien aux universitaires britanniques menacés par les restructurations en cours ou à venir, 1er novembre 2010

mardi 2 novembre 2010, par Wendy

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, an’ go it alone
London calling upon the zombies of death
Quit holding out-and draw another breath

—The Clash

If Albany’s language departments are the canaries in the coal mine of public education, the ongoing efforts to restructure higher education funding in England are the coal mine collapsing. As James Vernon and Stefan Collini have argued, the Browne Report and the Coalition government’s Spending Priorities Review, if implemented, will mark an effective end of public higher education in the England. England’s government is now proposing to shift the fiscal basis of higher education from the public to the individual student and enshrine the notion that higher education is primarily a private not a public good. Moreover, the Browne Report assumes drastic cutbacks, if not outright elimination, of public subsidies for teaching “non-priority” courses while maintaining some targeted support for STEM fields. Under the sign of fiscal necessity, Browne and the coalition government are attempting to subordinate higher education even more to the perceived short-term needs of business under the sign of appealing to the desires of students. Any notion of the centrality of the transmission of a critical tradition in higher education has been lost.

At the heart of the Browne report lie a series of assumptions. First, that public funding is, and must be, reduced in the higher education sector. Second, that the primary good to come out of higher education is a private one—the increase in economic earnings for graduates. Third, that while there is some public good in higher education, that public good resides primarily in ensuring that higher education ensures the adequate training of a sufficient number of people in certain strategic fields (primarily health care, STEM and some languages). And finally, that the success or failure of higher education is most convincingly displayed through its role in the comparative economic development of the nation.

The fundamental proposal of the Browne report is to shift funding from the government to the student. The Browne report envisions both a drastic reduction and redirection of public support : eliminating block grants to universities in the context of an overall decline in government funding of higher education. This loss of funding, the report admits, can only be compensated for by a substantial rise in tuition. Lord Browne, indeed, imagines that tuition in England will have to more than double simply to match the funds loss through government cutbacks. In reality there is no effective limit on the rise in tuition in the future. In order to make this possible, the Browne report proposes a simplified student loan system with the government making available loans upfront and graduates paying them back over a 30 year period at a fixed percentage (with certain thresholds, adjustments for inflation, and interest fees). Any money not paid back after 30 years (due to low income of the graduate) would be forgiven by the government. Browne rejects the notion of private funding for the loans because it is his aim to make the loans available to all students at a government controlled rate. Within certain limits, higher education would be run as a market powered by the indebtedness of students.

In return for higher tuition, students, Browne promises, will gain greater power and choice over their education. Improved advising and more transparency will allow students to choose their studies more effectively. “Students will control a much larger proportion of the investment in higher education. The will decide where the funding should go ; and institutions will compete to get it. As students will be paying more than in the current system, they will demand more in return.” (29) But it remains unclear what this advice or these choices amount to in the end. The Browne report appears to assume that the key to student choice should be better advice about the immediate needs of the job market and likely wage-results of different courses of studies. While the report does include some recommendations for increasing universities’ commitment to teaching (particularly in transparency about contact time and information on who actually teaches courses) in the last analysis its notion of career and course choices is an economic and business one. Universities will succeed in their jobs when they better align their graduates with business demand and counseling will succeed when it makes it clear to students what the economic risks of their choices are.

Pour lire la suite sur le blog de M. Meranze