We pretend that the university entry system is broadly meritocratic. But in Britain the privately educated child of a professional family is three times more likely to get into a top university than the child of poorer parents. It will take radical reforms to reverse that.
Why aren’t there more radical teachers? Is it just the difficulty of being radical in a system built around compulsion, discipline, conformity, and reproduction of the class structure? Or is part of the problem the way that people become teachers? Indeed, why is it that so many educational radicals were never formally trained as teachers?
The tipping point for Britain’s university system could be very near. The list of problems it faces is long: fees, cuts, privatisation and pressure to change curricula to ever-more-narrow ideas of employability. There has been large-scale (mis)management of the student loan budget meaning a hole of £570m, and last week saw the privatisation of the student loan book with £890m of loans sold for £160m. Workloads are increasing, as is casualisation of staff through zero-hour contracts, and there is high disparity in pay between senior and other staff.
It’s all about engagement. I’ve heard things like a child’s attention span, in minutes, is equal to their age in years. That’s so not true. If children are engaged in something, they’ll spend hours on it. We have a 6-year-old grandchild who will spend hours working on Legos or Tinkertoys because she’s got something in her mind that she wants to build, and she’ll do it. If children aren’t paying attention, it’s not because of a decreased attention span—it’s because they aren’t given tasks that honor their dominant ways of learning.
As a supplement to the 2013 Education Pays report -- which finds that the median earnings of bachelor's-degree recipients during a 40-year full-time working life are 65 percent higher than those of high school graduates -- the College Board addresses the “conflicting statements and views” in public discussions of higher education.
The College Board chastises those who question the value of higher education by perpetuating anecdotal stories about student debt and unemployment. The board concludes that while higher education may not be a boon for all, “on average and for most students, college is an excellent financial investment.”
This restructuring is painful bordering on the excruciating for many, and it is imposed in-part through measures like: the announcement in the Autumn Statement of 30,000 extra university places next year and the abolition of all number controls in 2015-16; the calls for the removal of the cap on fees; increased privatisation and outsourcing; encouraging alternative providers; the sale of the student loan book; the use of REF/impact measures for academic labour, and so on. Each of these tactical arrangements furthers the deterritorialisation of the idea that the public/social might underpin the organising principles for higher education. As a result we are left in asymmetrical opposition the State’s use of force to impose marketization. Market forces, indeed.
Why does public engagement matter? Why should it matter and how can it be made to matter more? These are the questions Mark Carrigan and Nick Mahony explore by looking at the context of contemporary higher education where technology, institutional pressure, and an increasing diversity of engagement initiatives are emerging, within academia and beyond.
Leading universities should be able to charge fees substantially higher than the current £9,000-a-year ceiling to meet the cost of educating their students, the vice-chancellor of Oxford University said today.
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