The vice-chancellor stands up. No one notices until the Head of Registry bangs the desk. ‘Please everyone. Please. There are some important words to come…’ He pauses, realising he sounds like a complete arse, and decides not to continue turning instead to Professor Woodley (or Weedley as he is commonly known, both because of his subject specialism and his physique.)
‘Yes thank you, Jonathan. Thank you.’ A bizarre quiet settles over the group of admissions tutors, a motley assembly of 80s radicals resigned to their fate, besuited new Labour PhDs who think that their career is going somewhere, and ex civil servant types who have found their way to posts in this up and coming University. ‘I need not emphasize that we are working in difficult times. This University has not had to make anybody redundant because we have planned carefully, we have a cash reserve, and because all of you have recruited to target. In these times this is a great achievement. But…he pauses… this year is different. Any student who achieves AAB is permitted to move to another University without us being able to do anything about it. We have not met our targets… yet… and there are 15% fewer students in the system than last year. So unlike last year when we had too many students, we now have too few. Fees, government policy, demography all have contributed to what might be a crisis. Last year I told you that if students did not attain their required grades you should reject them. This year you cannot. Last year I told you not to accept anyone through clearing. This year take as many as you can. I am not saying anyone, note. Rather, as many as you can. Remember no one in senior management wants to consider redundancies. Oh, and thank you all for coming in on the 13th of August. I too have sacrificed my holiday in France. I too would rather not be here. Please, let’s make those numbers, let’s make those targets. Thank you. Jonathan.’
A few old lefties raise their hands. One shouts out, impervious to the fact that no more is to be said: ‘So if I hear you right we can take anyone, and the reason for this is because otherwise people will have to be made redundant, and the reason for that is because this is just another business like any other and ultimately as far as you are concerned we are just dispensable staff here to service your fat cat salary. How much is it again. £280 o00 the Times Higher said, a raise of 12% on last year, and most of us had pay cuts. Am I right? You should forfeit that pay raise now, given that you cannot even run an institution with sufficient academic credibility to recruit students.’ A murmur of assent wriggles its way around the room. It skips over the new labour lookalikes who still anticipate promotion to the 100 grand salary scene.
‘Yes Tomas. We’ve heard your rants before. Can we leave this for another time. There are students to recruit.’ He leaves the room, followed closely by the Head of Registry and a few other acolytes of the New Management Techniques. He knows that Tomas is on the way out, he knows that no one listens to anything he says, even if it is true. The fact is that the system is mad. Any idiot with an A level could work that out. The bloggers guide on how to make a mess of Higher Education:
1 Charge students £9000 per year, before accommodation, food, entertainment, books;
2. Delay the paying back of the debt for up to 30 years and charge interest on it so that student is forever part of the system of debt created by banks;
3. Let students choose their University nine months in advance, but then give them an opt out: you can go to a better University if you get AAB. Even if that Unviersity has no spare capacity we will give them more money to recruit the best students;
4. Change the University accounting system so that every student has to be accounted for on three occasions during the academic year, and take away money for every student that leaves at three monthly intervals;
5. Make Universities publish contact time, with no detail of what that contact time is, or what its quality is. Seminars of 50 or 10 areequivalents at 1 hour each. Universities can become like large factory systems processing units of information into a system that indents them for life;
6. Make it virtually impossible for international students to attend by introducing a system of monitoring so rigorous that Universities have to discriminate;
7. Make sure that all research has direct positive outcomes, measurable in monetary terms. That way academics will learn how to be businessmen and students will be taught by entrepreneurs.
He sighs. It is dispiriting looking over student results in this context. The temptation is to reject all those who don’t get the required marks. Why bring them into a system where in effect all they are for the University is human capital, investment opportunities, cash cows to be milked until their udders are empty and they can be cast out as meat for the market place. Why teach the high-minded ideals of the Humanities if what is most important is impact, an impact measurable in cash terms. Why educate if the ancient ideal of education as liberation no longer has meaning. Kant once wrote that ‘character consists in originality in the way of thinking . He who has character derives his conduct from a source that he has opened by himself .’ Does this notion of character make any sense if education is now an investment opportunity and little else. The type of character Kant describes would be despised in this institution.
And so, wearily, with a hint of pathos about the act, we all look through our UCAS forms, wondering if it means anything today, wondering if the students of the future will have character so ironed out of them, that the opening of something merely of ones own accord will become an ancient parable with which to scold children of the future for wasting their time. Come, come, The University of Weeengland needs those bums on seats. Hurry up now, make decisions. Get those students in! Remember the more students you reject now, the longer you will have to spend on the phone recruiting them through clearing. Rememer we are the best University in the country with our beautiful location, our focus on work, our commitment to economic growth. You can do it!