Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Neoliberalism and the Commercialization of Higher Education

The Leftist writer below bewails the increasing vocational emphasis in British education.  She says it is a move away from "values of critical-thinking and challenging basic assumptions".  She might have a case if universities had in fact been teaching such things.  The fact that they were on the whole teaching unthinking lockstep Leftism leaves her without a case

Cuts in spending and the replacement of academic staff by technology are not the only pressures faced by British academia. Increasingly, education is fashioning students into a productive labor force rather than teaching them more traditional academic ideals.

Last year’s plans to raise tuition fees in Britain to a maximum of £9000, $13,731 at today’s exchange rate, were coterminous with cuts of £2 billion in funding for education. Universities’ lack of funding caused them to compensate for lost income by hiking up tuition fees. This is perceived as disastrous for Britain’s progression up the global league tables, which, conducted by the Times educational supplement, rank universities by teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. With increasing competition from universities around the world, the UK’s University and College Union warns that Britain is at risk of being left behind.

The neoliberal turn to privatization and the commercialization of education is an area of concern for British universities. Since the 1980s, neoliberalism has been expressing itself in university syllabi. Abandoning previous values of critical-thinking and challenging basic assumptions, the focus leans towards teaching vaguely defined “skills” such as “teamwork,” “communication” and “leadership.”

Such effects are evident in the recently “enhanced” course guides at the London School of Economics (LSE). The LSE is a private university that specializes in the social sciences and ranks third in the university league tables for the UK. The university’s new course guides include ‘skills’-sets that lecturers have to tick off as they incorporate them into their lessons. Such an approach propounds an entrepreneurial attitude over the goals previously associated with the social sciences. As sociologist Stephen Ball claims, in such institutions students as commodities transforms education into a “big business” rather than education for education’s sake.


British ‘Superhead’ Greg Wallace suspended over claims he gave IT contract to boyfriend

A so-called “superhead” who was praised by the Education Secretary Michael Gove and runs five primary schools has been suspended along with a federation’s entire governing body, it can be revealed.

Greg Wallace has been forced to stand down as head of the five primary schools in Hackney, east London, while allegations are investigated over the awarding of a computer contract to a firm run by a man with whom he has a close personal relationship.

The decision to suspend him and the governing body – whose members include Henry de Zoete, one of Mr Gove’s special advisers – is the latest in a series of financial controversies surrounding the superheads.

These include a headteacher knighted for his services to education, Sir Alan Davies, former head of Copland Community School in Wembley, north London, who is going on trial next month where he denies conspiring to defraud his school.

Hackney Council moved to suspend Mr Wallace and the governors after launching an investigation into the running of the school last April. A statement on the website of the Best Start Federation, which runs the schools, said: “We understand the HLT [Hackney Learning Trust – which runs education services for the council] has concerns about the computer contracts and Greg Wallace’s relationship with the provider C2 Technology.”

Peter Passam, who was chairman of governors at two of the schools in the federation – Woodberry Down and London Fields – when the contract was first awarded, said Mr Wallace had always been “open with me about his connection with C2 Technology”. He added: “The contract was judged on its value and its quality.”

Mr Gove has often lavished praise on Mr Wallace and the schools in speeches made as Education Secretary. On a visit to Woodberry Down last year he said he had had high expectations of the school before his visit and they had been “totally surpassed”.

All the other four schools have seen significant improvements since joining the federation – London Fields going from special measures after failing its Ofsted report to outstanding in three years.

In an email to staff Tony Zangoura, head of C2 Technology, said he and Mr Wallace were not together in 2009 when the first contract was awarded to the firm and accused HLT of “going on a fishing expedition within the schools to find dirt”.

The schools, which had announced their intention of converting to academy status in May, but had to put the plan on hold once the investigation was launched in April, have appealed to Mr Gove to intervene in the case.

“While no system ever operates perfectly, we refute entirely that there was lack of governance or worse, malfeasance, by this governing body,” they said.

A spokesman for Hackney Council said: “The council has withdrawn financial and staffing powers from the governing body as part of an ongoing investigation.” It declined to elaborate on the reasons for the decision.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said it had received a letter from the body, adding: “We will consider this in due course.”

Must do better: Controversial heads

Sir Bruce Liddington, a former “superhead” who became Schools Commissioner under Labour, had to quit as director-general of the E-ACT academies chain after being condemned it for lunches at London’s Reform Club.

Jo Shuter, headteacher of the year in 2007 and awarded a CBE in 2010, quit her job as head of Quinton Kynaston school in London’s St John’s Wood, after she spent school money on personal taxis, flowers and staff refreshments.

Richard Gilliland quit as executive head of four schools run by the Priory federation in Lincoln and Grantham after auditors found extraordinary purchases, including sex aids, had been delivered to the schools’ office.

Dame Jean Else, head of Whalley Range High School for Girls in Manchester, was found guilty of financial irregularities – including employing her twin sister



Overseas students targeted in new British  export strategy

The government has said it is “realistic” for UK international student numbers to grow up to 20 per cent over five years under current visa rules.

The estimate is part of the coalition’s new industrial strategy for international education, of which overseas students at universities are a key part.

International Education – Global Growth and Prosperity, which was launched today, estimates that international students contributed £6.3 billion in living expenses and £3.9 billion in tuition fees to the UK economy in 2011-12, the lion’s share of the £17.5 billion that education is thought to contribute overall.

An increase of 20 per cent would mean an extra 90,000 international students over the next half decade, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

However, the coalition has also pledged to bring net migration down to the “tens of thousands” by the next general election in 2015. In the year to September 2012, the figure stood at 153,000.

Asked whether an increase in student immigration could have an impact on the net migration target, David Willetts, the universities and science minister stressed that there were “no plans” for a cap on the number of legitimate international students who could come to the UK.

The message that Britain was open to international students went “right up to the prime minister”, he told an event to launch the strategy in London this morning.

For the rise in international students to occur, “we must show that the UK values international students, will provide a warm welcome and support while they are here and will keep in touch after they go home”, the strategy says.

It also set out a number of other plans, including:

- a cross-government Responding to International Student Crises committee to help those who have difficulty accessing money or renewing visas because of disasters in their home countries, for example the current civil war in Syria.

- a new Education UK Unit to support large-scale commercial partnerships abroad, which aims to win contracts worth at least £1 billion by 2015 and £3 billion by 2020.

- the development of the UK’s FutureLearn platform for massive open online course (Moocs). British universities involved in Moocs “need to be flexible, entrepreneurial and willing to form partnerships, which may cross old public-private boundaries”, the strategy stresses.

- an “enhanced website” and expanded recruitment service will be rolled out to advertise UK universities abroad. The “GREAT Britain” advertising push will expand its campaign promoting education into rapidly growing economies such as India, China, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

- the Department for International Development will double its investment in development partnerships for education

- the Chevening scholarship programme, which attracts future politicians and “high fliers” to study in the UK, will be expanded.

- Eric Thomas, who is currently president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, is to become the new “UK Education Champion”.


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