International Campuses or International Students?

Today’s entry is by Professor Christine Ennew, Pro Vice Chancellor (Internationalisation/Science) and Professor of Marketing, University of Nottingham, UK. Professor Ennew has responsibility for Internationalisation and the Faculty of Science. She was formerly Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education and is also Professor of Marketing in the Business School.

I’ve run into Professor Ennew in various settings, and have always found her to be one of the most astute practitioner-analysts with respect to the globalization of higher education and research.  This entry stands by itself, but also ties into some of our previous entries in GlobalHigherEd regarding branch campuses and the ‘export‘ of higher education services (to use GATS parlance). Prof. Ennew raises some important points regarding the impact of political decisions regarding inflows of international students and how problematic it is to assume the increased export of education services (via a branch campus) can compensate for reduced imports of foreign students. More importantly, these two forms of ‘internationalization’ at the institutional scale are vastly different, and enable universities (and societies, more broadly) to pursue substantially different objectives. They are linked strategies, but ‘apples and oranges’ with respect to dynamic and outcome.

My thanks to Professor Ennew for permitting me to repost her entry here (it was originally posted on the University of Nottingham’s insightful Knowledge Without Borders blog). Kris Olds

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International Campuses or International Students?

Christine Ennew

For those of us who have long been active in developing educational and research provision outside the UK, it is heartening to learn that David Willets [Minister of State for Universities and Science] is keen to address the barriers to greater engagement by UK universities in overseas ventures. Developments such as international campuses (a major focus of recent discussions in the UK Government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) have the potential to bring genuine benefits to individual institutions and to the sector as a whole. They provide an opportunity to work with talented students and academics who might not otherwise have engaged with UK HE; they offer distinctive mobility opportunities for staff and students; they can provide novel research opportunities and they contribute to the global reputation of UK HE.

But we should be careful not to delude ourselves that this activity is an “export” in any substantive economic sense. One of the distinctive features of an “export” is the generation of a flow of income to the home country in return for the provision of a service to an overseas market. UK HE already has an outstanding record in exporting HE, through the stream of international students who arrive every year to study at UK Universities. These students generate significant export earnings through the fees that they pay (perhaps as much as £8bn annually) and provide an additional economic impact through their spending while studying in the UK. More significantly perhaps, they contribute to the diversity and quality of the student body and in the longer term they help to build positive and enduring relationships between the UK and a range of other countries across the world.

The international record of UK higher education is now seriously threatened by a damaging immigration policy which BIS has been unable to counter. And the consequence for the sector and the economy of a significant drop in internationally mobile students coming to study in the UK could be disastrous – both in terms of a loss of talent and a loss of income. More insidiously the idea that we can simply substitute new income from international campuses for lost income from internationally mobile students suggests that financial motives dominate our interest in internationalisation in higher education. That is not to suggest that export earnings do not matter. They do. But internationally mobile students studying on UK campuses bring so much more for the student experience on campus and to the longer term position of the UK in the world economy and we must not under-estimate these non-financial benefits from international student recruitment.

And, it would be misguided to think that the establishment of campuses overseas (however funded) could be a substitute for international students coming to study in the UK. The experience of the University of Nottingham with its campuses in Malaysia and China has been hugely positive and the benefits of campus development have been considerable. But net income isn’t one of them. International campuses receive their income within the country in which they operate and incur most of their costs in that same location. Financially they are substantially based in their host economy. Almost by definition then, there will be relatively low income flows back to the home country.

Done well and done properly, an international campus will be economically viable, certainly in the medium term and will deliver a range of other non-monetary benefits. But, expecting any resulting revenues to replace the lost income that will materialise if the Home Office ever gets close to its targets for reducing net migration to the UK is both unrealistic and dangerous. In the longer term interests of the UK economy and its world leading Universities, international campuses and internationally mobile students must be seen as complementary initiatives in internationalisation, not alternatives.

A primer on international partnerships

One notable challenge for many universities is moving beyond the superficial rhetoric of internationalization. Of course every university, and its leaders, are in favor of internationalizing: the signs are everywhere, from refashioned mission statements, to the building of some institutional capacity to understand and support internationalization, to the inclusion of the rhetoric of internationalization in speech after speech by university leaders.

Yet, in the end, the process of enhancing the territorial spread of institutional networks, and sometimes architectures, is not so simple: it requires the initiation and implementation of a strategic planning process, and the subsequent bringing to life of new linkages, partnerships, programs, and projects. All of these elements, of course,  are more than technical issues. They are highly political, not just in what linkages with whom, but how they are advanced.  For some, this involves a top-down led process of almost turning the university inside out (e.g., NYU), while for others it involves the slow and steady development of an infrastructure of support to enable units within a university to go at their own speed, in their own ways, free of formal managerialism where one unit (and often person) is deemed the defacto czar of internationalization.

Regardless of approach, one of the noteworthy aspects of this phenomenon is its formalization. What I mean by this is institutions of higher education are increasingly attempting to become more strategic in a comprehensive and legible way. Audits of international teaching and research activities are being conducted, and universities are ramping up their coordination capabilities via advisory councils, task forces, ad-hoc working groups and the use of specialist consultants. The best universities build in accountability and outcome measures to see what is really happening over time. This sometimes involves more staff versus additional resources for faculty and students, for good and for bad (see, for example, the vigorous debate about the rise of ‘deanlets’ and ‘deanlings’ in ‘The Fall of the Faculty‘, Inside Higher Ed, 14 July 2011).

In any case, the effort to become more strategic, and formal, about internationalization is abundantly evident in a new report released yesterday by the UK Higher Education International and Europe Unit. This report — A Guide to UK Higher Education and Partnerships for Overseas Universities  — is designed to serve as a “starting point for overseas institutions interested in establishing collaborations with UK higher education institutions.” As noted in the report’s executive summary:

Partnerships between academic institutions have tended to be the product of working relationships between individual academics; but more recently, as the potential benefits and risks from overseas collaborations have increased, universities and colleges have begun to manage their international partnerships portfolio more effectively.

Increasing competition is affecting the way UK universities think about their aspirations and how to maintain their international competitiveness. A strategic shift is underway – away from a focus on international student recruitment (at which the UK sector has been successful) and toward a longer-term and more partnership based conceptualisation of internationalisation.

Governments around the world are increasingly encouraging their universities to embrace the international agenda and to internationalise their institution. They are doing this by supporting and facilitating their higher education sectors to engage at an institutional level with global partners through teaching and research collaboration.

The free 52 page report, which is available in PDF format in English, Arabic and Chinese, is worth reading -  for even if you are not interested in partnering with UK universities, the report helpfully sets out a series of issues worth thinking about in general at both the university level (i.e. how to frame and implement partnerships) as well as the larger system-wide scale.

For example, the report prompted me to reflect on the issue of what associations of universities could do to better communicate about, in summary form, the taken-for-granted factors shaping the national systems of higher education and research their own universities are embedded in. And if this were to happen, what language(s) should this form of communications occur in? What format should these types of ‘primers’ be available in, and at what cost (if any)? And whom should we be communicating with as we lay out some of the groundwork for the hoped for formation of partnerships? Similarly, do we, at the university scale, provide sufficient analytically-oriented information, in one place on our websites, about the history, nature of, and entry points (with respect to governance), regarding our universities that prospective overseas partners would find beneficial to read prior to visits and negotiations?

Of course partnerships, in the end, need to be brought to life at the university-to-university level, but keep it in mind that the diversity of systems out there mean that many universities need approval from ministries or government departments before they can engage in partnerships, especially if year-on-year resource expenditures are to be factored in. Given this, many government officials, ministers (or equivalents), and some unexpected others, have power to shape relationship-building outcomes even though they frequently do not have an understanding of issues, like academic freedom, quality assurance, institutional governance, research and teaching outcome expectations, etc. All the more reason for communicating about who we are, and are not.

While hardly comprehensive, or  perfect, my read of A Guide to UK Higher Education and Partnerships for Overseas Universities leads me to believe that its authors and sponsors are attempting to provide a primer of this type; one for ‘overseas universities’ as well as the other actors who will have an impact on the partnership relationship-building process. It is also a reflexive piece; one that is  reminding those guiding UK universities to think about the taken-for granted factors that shape their practices and expectations. In the end, these kinds of communications objectives cannot but be positive, for failed or unrealized partnerships (and there are many the higher education sector) generate ample opportunity costs that we can scarcely afford.

Kris Olds

AUSTERITY FASHIONISTA or A CALL TO LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP: Reflections on Higher Education Budget Cuts in England and California

Editors’ note: today’s guest entry has been kindly developed by Dr. John Aubrey Douglass, Senior Research Fellow – Public Policy and Higher Education at the Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of California – Berkeley, and currently visiting professor at the University of Campinas (Unicamp, Brazil). John Douglass is the co-editor of Globalization’s Muse: Universities and Higher Education Systems in a Changing World (Public Policy Press, 2009), and author of The Conditions for Admissions (Stanford Press 2007) and The California Idea and American Higher Education (Stanford University Press, 2000; published in Chinese in 2008).

This contribution reflects the author’s recent analysis of the past and future of California’s higher education system: see ‘Re-Imagining California Higher Education‘ Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE), UC Berkeley, ROPS Oct 2010; ‘Chaos to Order and Back: the Cal Master Plan@50‘ CSHE ROPS May 2010. This piece should also be read in conjunction with James Vernon’s piece (‘The end of the public university in England‘) in GlobalHigherEd (a genuine ‘hit’ given the traffic it generated) as well as ‘Browne’s gamble: the future of universities‘ by Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books. Mark Blyth of the Watson Institute of International Studies (Brown University) has also helped shed light on the current round of austerity budgets sweeping the globe via this striking new video (aptly titled Austerity) which we posted today just below John Douglass’ entry.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

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To a degree unmatched among developed economies, Britain’s new government has decided to embrace austerity in government spending. How is one to interpret the actions of the fresh, young Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne? For one, its seems like a legitimate, if perhaps an overreaching, reaction to government debt.

One sees a similar reaction among those nations hit hardest by the Great Recession, with governments with previously existing large deficits and economies built on the housing bubble and consumer debt, including the US, Ireland, and Portugal.

To varying degrees, these nations are now entering a profoundly anti-Keynesian moment, taking a bet that the private sector will quickly make up for public investment and services to help turn their economies around.

A second interpretation? The austerity drive and its severity in England is part of a larger political attack; an opportunity to severely reduce government services and costs not to be missed – a version of the “starve the beast” approach championed now for decades in the United States largely by Republicans.

With a public increasingly wary of the government’s ability to navigate the treacherous waters of the Great Recession, and a building campaign and sense that government debt is a bigger concern than, say, immediate job creation, conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic are attempting to seize an opportunity to cut government spending across the board.

And that is what you see in England. Across the board cuts of some 40 percent are, to say the least, draconian. There are only a few exceptions, including funding for the national health care system. But otherwise, there has been no effort, it seems, to pick and choose winners based on, to imagine another path, long-term effect economic development or educational attainment rates.

Under Gordon Brown’s labour government, higher education suffered relatively minor cuts to research, but always under the specter that more significant cuts were on their way.

Time will tell if Conservative policymaking, with seeming consent of the Liberal Democrats will be a grand economic success. England has a large debt problem, no doubt; but one already sees some signs of economic growth in England’s economy – arguably the partial result of stimulus funding under Brown. Why not a more measured program of cuts over time, marginal increases in revenues, with priority funding where you get long-term economic and social benefits?

But never mind that discussion; what will be the consequences for British higher education?

Like other government services, the university sector is to experience a 40 percent cut in funding from the national government, to be accomplished over a four-year period. Lord Browne’s new report on the future of England’s higher education system, a commission report launched before the recent Conservative victory, has accepted the Cameron government’s austerity demands, and the backroom desire of the Russell Group, that a partial answer is to generously lift the cap on university tuition fees.

The Browne report recommended, and the Tories have formally accepted in their recent budget announcement, the notion of a new cap: a £6,000 per year “threshold,” up from £3,250, to a maximum of £9,000 in “exceptional circumstances” – read, the Russell Group with a collection of some 20 self-appointed elite universities, including Oxbridge.

From a foreign, US perspective, the added edict of the Tories to shift what HEFCE university funding remains to science and engineering fields, and reducing funding to the humanities and social sciences is to seriously meddle with what should normally be internal funding decisions of institutions. Universities now must dig into their fee income if they want to keep these programs in place, placing pressure on their vibrancy, and in some cases existence.

And what is the response of other members of England’s higher education community? It’s a diffuse lot, but Universities UK President Steve Smith, seems to think it is all a done deal, and that the new fee cap “allows universities to replace a large part of the lost state funding for teaching,” by way of post-graduate contributions.

We believe,” explains Smith, “that this package of proposals represents the best available funding system for universities, given the £2.9bn cuts to the higher education budget announced in the Spending Review.

Of course, you get the typical response of students and the growing ranks of dissatisfied university faculty. The University and College Union and the National Union of Students just held a decent sized protest rally in London, with estimates of the number of participants varying from 25,000 to over 50,000. A good amount of the anger is pointed to the Liberal Democrats, who pledged to oppose any increase in university fees.

In my view, the magnitude of the cuts and proposed increases in fees is extremely problematic– a “leap before you look” approach to policymaking that is fairly common in England. Most studies show that you can move to a moderate to high fee, and high bursary/financial aid system with possibly positive influence on socio-economic access. But it also must be a process done slowly, not on the fly, and certainly not in the time frame demanded by Prime Minister Cameron and his party.

How can such dramatic and rapid cuts be absorbed without negatively influencing educational attainment rates, and the vitality and moral of most of England’s higher education institutions? It seems that the “exceptional” fee model may very well benefit the elite institutions, but what is the effect in the larger system, and the not so elite?

Of course, I don’t fully know the answer; nor, might I say, does anyone else. As a matter of reference, however, I can say with a small drip of sarcasm, welcome to the club. Most states in the US have been going through a similar financial restructuring characterized by sizable reduction in government support. California in particular has suffered the wrath of steep, sudden, and unanticipated declines in revenue.

Here is a short story focused on the experience in California.

The Case of California

The dire situation for US higher education is most acute in the state of California, presenting an exaggerated yet common narrative. With some 35 million people, California is the largest state (nearly twice the size of New York in population) and has an economy that ranks among the top ten in the world if it were a country.

The state also has the largest concentration of high technology companies in the American union. Unlike England, California is projected to experience large-scale population growth, with an estimated population of 60 million by 2050.

At the same time, California’s famous public higher education system is undergoing a possibly significant redefinition, driven solely by severe budget cuts and without a long-term strategic plan.

In terms of access and graduation rates, the grand success of California’s pioneering public higher education system, and its Master Plan, is in many ways a thing of the past. Where California was always among the top states in high school graduation rates, in access to higher education, and in degree completion rates, the state now ranks among the bottom ten in most categories.

In short, it is modestly good in access, and an extremely low performer in degree production.

The causes are many, including declining investment in education generally, low high school graduation rates, and high attrition rates among students in higher education – a pattern that correlates with a high number of part-time students in California and an inadequate financial aid model at the national and state level, affecting California’s ranking in a number of funding and performance indicators (see accompanying box).

Note California’s general low ranking in the US; then note that the US has been declining relative to economic competitors among the 32 mostly developed member nations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD).

The Great Recession has accelerated California’s decline and may have a significant impact on educational attainment levels in the state – probably a real decline in the short-term.

Declining state revenues has brought a near collapse in the coherence of California’s higher education system. Public funding per student has plummeted and, for the first time, students normally eligible for the University of California and California State University systems have been denied admissions.

Over the past decade, both UC and CSU have been taking on more and more students that are, in the parlance of university administrators, “unfunded.” The University of California has some 15,000 undergraduates receive no corresponding funding from the state; at a campus like Berkeley, some 18 percent of undergraduate are “unfunded” by the state.

California’s Community Colleges could not absorb students who were refused admission to UC and CSU. A budget cut of $825 million for these colleges has led to wholesale cutting of courses and shrinking enrollment capacity, translating into some 200,000 or more prospective Community College students being denied access.

What have been the on the ground, in the trenches effects of the age of austerity?

The Case of the University of California

At the University of California, which includes ten campuses and has the reputation of being one of the most productive and high quality university systems in the world (some six campuses are members of the prestigious Association of American Universities), budget cuts have resulted in large fee increases – not unlike what England will soon experience.

The UC Board of Regents increased fees by 15 percent in Spring 2010, and then did it again in for Fall 2010 – an increase of over 32 percent over less than a two-year period. UC undergraduates now pay about $11,000 a year in fees and campus-based costs; room and board can add $16,000. Graduate and professional students pay more.

Despite a slight increase in funding for UC proposed in the state budget for this year – a glimmer of hope of a marginal resurrection of public funding – UC President Mark Yudof just proposed another 8 percent increase in UC student fees, “to help maintain the university’s excellence.” The increase would take effect in fall 2011.

Like the emerging bursary scheme in England, a third of all fees is returned to lower income students in the form of financial aid. The plan is to expand the so-called “Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan,” a financial aid promise that UC students from families earning below $80,000 annually can attend tuition-free – up from the $70,000 threshold used last year for financial aid.

But these large increases in tuition and fees have not been enough to cover the huge loss of public funding for UC – again, a story that most British higher education institutions (HEIs) will likely experience. State support per student at UC has declined by roughly half in the past two decades.

The other ways to cut? Besides cutting enrollment, the most common path to fiscal austerity is to cut faculty and administrative support staff positions. This drives up student to faculty ratios. At UC, class sizes are up by about 25 percent.

The university has and is eliminating programs, reducing library hours, cutting extracurricular activities, cutting support services, and hiring not only fewer teaching faculty, but also student assistants and part-time student employees. See the accompanying box for a list of impacts for the UC system as a whole, and then at the Berkeley campus where I am.

Take these examples, and magnify them several times and you get a sense of what is happening at the California State University (CSU) which enrolls twice as many students as UC, and is a teaching focused university, and the primary source of teachers and engineers in California.

Large-scale cuts in staffing have resulted in large-scale cuts in courses offered. Reduced course sections will extend graduation time for many students. “Currently, 48% first-time freshmen graduate within six years, which may decrease when students are unable to get into courses needed to graduate,” noted a recent report by the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

The “Brazilian Effect”

Looking beyond UC and CSU, another macro effect is what I call the “Brazilian Effect”:  when public higher education can not keep pace with growing public demand for access and programs, For-Profits rush to fill that gap, and become a much larger provider. This is the pattern in many developing economies – Brazil where more than 50 percent of student enrollment is in For-Profit institutions; Korea, and Poland also reflect this model.

To be fair, Brazil has recently made significant strides to regulate its non-public providers through a new accreditation process, and has pushed the development of three-year colleges oriented toward vocational degree programs.

California is on the opposite side of that curve. There is currently a steep rise in enrollment in For-Profits in California precisely because of cuts in enrollment at UC, CSU, and the Community Colleges.

In essence, California is increasingly having the characteristics of both a developed and an under-developed economy, i.e. a society with high rates of near poverty level incomes, low high school graduation rates, limited access to public higher education, and low production of tertiary degrees.

As my Berkeley colleague James Vernon recently wrote in GlobalHigherEd, one may see a similar phenomenon in England as a nascent British “For-Profit sector awaits in the wings hungry to buy up or ‘rescue’ the publics that will surely fail in the years ahead.”

Some growth in the For-Profit sectors in California is inevitable and good. A diversified market of higher education providers is an essential component to expanding access and graduation rates. But there is evidence that much of that sector is of low quality and productivity and very expensive for the student and the federal and state governments which provide grants and loans to students.

Some 80 percent or more of For-Profit operating expenses come from taxpayer funded student grants and loans. Particularly at the traditional college cohort of 18 to 24 year-olds, very high attrition is common among these institutions and, in turn, low degree production rates – even lower than comparable public institutions. In 2008-09, students at for-profits accounted for nearly 10 percent of all higher education students, but received 23 percent of all federal student aid, roughly $23.9 billion, according to a recent Congressional report.

The Obama administration has proposed new and fairly minimal rules regarding the eligibility of For-Profits for federal student aid that have extremely high attrition rates and extremely low job placement histories. The industry, with most companies traded in the stock market, is vehemently opposed and, in the midst of Congressional hearings on the bill, has launched a massive and deceptive add campaign to defeat the bill. In this case, it is about money, and specifically the prospect of declining profits and declining stock prices; it is also about the possibility of further federal restrictions of the flow of tax dollars to these private institutions. [According to The Economist (9 Sept 2010), “Shares in Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix, are worth half what they were at the start of 2009. The Washington Post Company has lost nearly one-third of its value since April. Shares in Corinthian Colleges have fallen 70% in the same spell.”]

Nevertheless, even with new regulatory controls on the worst of the For-Profits, many of which are predatory, recruiting students who cannot afford large loan debts and with low job probabilities, the market will remain robust for this growing sector of California’s higher education system. There is a role for For-Profits, but it is a matter of balance.

The current surge in enrollment is largely the unintended consequence of an inability to properly structure and grow public higher education; yet, at the same time, these private enterprises operate largely on taxpayers funding. My primary concern is that this is a default position that funnels growing higher education demand to For-Profits.

California needs a more strategic approach.

Trying to Think Big

It’s a bit of a leap, but I offer in a recent research paper, ‘Re-Imagining California Higher Education,’ a reflection on the macro-problems and pathway for California to once again place its higher education system at the vanguard of being both a high access and high quality network of universities and colleges. Here is a short synopsis.

Most critics and observers of California’s system remain focused on incremental and largely marginal improvements, transfixed by the state’s persistent financial problems and inability to engage in long-range planning for a population that is projected to grow from approximately 37 million to some 60 million by 2050.

At the same time, President Obama has set a national goal for the US to once again have among the highest educational attainment rates in the world. This would require the nation to produce over 8 million additional degrees; California’s “fair share” would be approximately 1 million additional degrees. A number of studies indicate that California’s higher education system will not keep pace with labor needs in the state, let alone affording opportunities for socioeconomic mobility that once characterized California.

California needs to re-imagine its once vibrant higher education system. I offer a vision of a more mature system of higher education that could emerge over the next twenty years; in essence, a logical next stage in a system that has hardly changed in the last five decades.

Informed by the history of the tripartite system, its strengths and weaknesses over time, and the reform efforts of economic competitors throughout the world who are making significant investments in their own tertiary institutions, I offer a “re-imagined” network of colleges and universities and a plan for “Smart Growth.” I paint a picture that builds on California’s existing institutions, predicated on a more diverse array of institutional types, and rooted in the historical idea of mission differentiation.

This includes setting educational attainment goals for the state; shifting more students to 4-year institutions including UC and CSU; reorganizing the California Community Colleges to include a set of 4-year institutions, another set of “Transfer Focused” campuses, and having these colleges develop a “gap” year program for students out of high school to better prepare for higher education.

It also encompasses the idea of creating a new Polytechnic University sector, a new California Open University that is primarily focused on adult learners; and developing a new funding model that recognizes the critical role of tuition, and the market for international students that can generate income for higher education and attract top talent to California.

There is also a need to recognize that for the US to increase degree attainment rates, the federal government will need to become a more engaged partner with the states. For the near and possibly long-term, most state governments are in a fiscally weakened position that makes any large-scale investment in expanding access improbable. Because of the size of its population alone, California is the canary in the coalmine. If the US is to make major strides toward President Obama’s goal, it cannot do it without California.

Ask Mr. Cameron

In conclusion, it will be interesting to ask a few questions to our government leaders in California, in Washington, and in Whitehall. In the midst of the global recession, how have national governments viewed the role of higher education in their evolving strategies for economic recovery?

Demand for higher education generally goes up during economic downturns. Which nations will proactively protect funding for their universities and colleges to help maintain access, to help retrain workers, and to mitigate unemployment rates? And which nations have simply made large funding cuts for higher education in light of the severe downturn in tax revenues?

One might postulate that the decisions made today and in reaction to the “Great Recession” by nations in this difficult economic era will likely accelerate global shifts in the race to develop human capital.

Let’s see how England and the US fare.

John Aubrey Douglass

The end of the public university in England

Editor’s note: the entry below was kindly provided to us by James Vernon, a professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. His entry is posted here on the same day a BBC news story suggested that teaching grants “for degree courses in arts, humanities and social sciences at England’s universities are likely to be phased out under government plans.” Our thanks to James Vernon for these informed reflections regarding an historical transition unfolding in England; one with significant implications for those in the UK, Europe, as well many other parts of the world. Kris Olds

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I graduated from the University of Manchester in 1987 with no debt. I paid no fees and received a maintenance grant to earn a degree in Politics and Modern History. If my seventeen year old son were to follow in my footsteps he would graduate with debts of at least £50,000 and were he to study in London that could rise to £90,000.  In the space of a generation we have witnessed the destruction of the public university.

The Browne Report released on 12 October, and effectively rubber stamped in the savage public sector cuts announced yesterday, was simply the final nail in the coffin. Under the beguiling but misleading title Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education it effectively announced that university degrees are no longer considered a public good but a private investment.  Accordingly, it is the individual student, not the public, who will pay its cost.  Tuition fees will rise from £3,225 to a minimum of £6,000 rising to a potential ceiling of £12,000. State funding will fall from £3.5bn to just £700m – a total of 80% but a 100% cut in areas like the arts, humanities and social sciences that apparently have no public utility.

The cost of a university education may be charged to the individual student but they will be forced to pay for it through the sort of debt-financing that governments across the world now consider so inappropriate for themselves.   The scale of national debt is so ruinous we are told it requires emergency austerity measures (like all state intervention these days couched in the inevitable military metaphor of Osborne’s ‘war of welfare and waste’).  Students, meanwhile, will be encouraged to take on loans based upon an  imagined future income. They will effectively gamble that the loan will eventually pay-off by enhancing their future job prospects and earning power.  It will be a hedge against their future security.  What are effectively sub-prime loans are guaranteed by the state. Higher education is now modeled on the types of financial speculation that has helped get us in to this mess.

It is thankfully still just about inconceivable that primary and secondary education could be treated in this way -  indeed, Osborne claimed he would be investing more in these areas.   There at least it seems education remains something that serves a public and social function. Clearly something magical occurs when one turns eighteen and your education becomes a matter of personal not public gain.

When education becomes a private investment not a public good the principle of universal provision necessarily falls by the way.  It used to be a central pillar of the British higher education system that all institutions offered a similar range of degrees at the same price (if not with the same prestige).  A degree in biochemistry at Cambridge cost the same as one in cultural studies at Liverpool John Moores.  In making students customers of educational services Browne opens up the English and Welsh university sector (Scotland has it own more sanely run system) to the vagaries of student demand.  Different universities will compete with each other charging variable rates for different degrees depending on the quality of their service and the branding of their product. Everyone recognizes that Departments and programs be cut, many will be reduced to teaching factories where the link between teaching and research is severed, and some campuses will close altogether or be sold off in pieces.

As so often in Britain when business is the model we are told this is how things are done in America.  Indeed, it is.  Last week the State University of New York cut its programs in Classics, French, Italian, Russian and Theater.  In the last two years the University of California has raised its tuition by 32%, introduced furloughs for its workers that represented an effective 8% pay cut and are now seeking to restructure the pension packages of its employees.

There are however real differences between the American system and the model being developed in Britain.  The now ailing public universities in America existed in a diverse sector with privates (ranging from the small liberal arts colleges to the Ivy League campuses with their enormous endowments), community colleges and the rapidly expanding for-profits like the online degree factory the University of Phoenix.  Private endowments and federal programs like the Pell grant scheme enable both public and private universities to at least be seen to maintain ‘access’ to a diverse student body.  Yet even they seem unable to prevent the fortification of privilege amongst those social and ethnic groups most able to take the loans to gamble on their futures. The rest are likely to be driven in increasing numbers to for-profits who offer a faster, cheaper, denigrated, on-line education.

The lessons to be learnt from the American experience are that fees will continue to rise, unequal access between rich and poor will become structural to the system, and the for-profit sector will grow.  Buckingham University, once the only for-profit private in the entire UK, may well become the model. In July, the Minister responsible for higher education, David Willetts, made BPP (now owned by the Apollo Group the parent company of the University of Phoenix, the largest online for-profit in the US) the second for-profit capable of granting degrees in the UK.  With Obama’s administration accusing Apollo and co of using public funds and federally guaranteed student loans to leverage more private debt from students the for-profits are turning their attentions to the UK. Encouraged by David Willetts the for-profit sector awaits in the wings hungry to buy up or ‘rescue’ the publics that will surely fail in the years ahead.

Many politicians and university administrators present the Browne report as a reasonable response to the expansion of student numbers at a time of austerity and shrinking public budgets. Quite apart from the falsity of the choice between rising student fees or reduced numbers of students it is an argument that belies the length, depth and scale of the present crisis.

Firstly, it is not unique to England.  Across Europe and the Americas students and their teachers have been protesting against the same processes: the public disinvestment of higher education, rising fees and levels of student debt, the expansion of management and administrative systems for measuring efficiency or ‘excellence’ of services, the quest for new fee-paying consumers online or overseas, the casualization of academic labor, the restructuring of pensions. Yet, the destruction of the public university in England is widely seen as a test-case where these processes are unraveling faster and further than anywhere else.

Secondly, the storm has been brewing for decades. There should be no wistful nostalgia for a once pure public university. In the nineteenth century the great ‘redbrick’ provincial universities were founded on the alliance between industry and ivy. In the post-war period a good deal of academic research served a decolonizing state uneasily placed in the cold war arms race as the student protests of the late 1960s recognized.  It was hardly news then when in 1970 Edward Thompson railed against the erosion of intellectual life and academic governance by the captains of local industry that ran Warwick University, Ltd.  And, of course, despite the faux radicalism of the new universities that enabled the system to expand after the Robbins Report of 1963, universities remained the preserve of a privileged elite charged with running the welfare state with just 457,000 students in 1971 – 14% of the age group.

If the public university had always been a faustian bargain with industry and the state the rules of the game certainly began to change decisively during the 1980s when I was a student. First came the effective freeze on hiring following the Howe budget cuts of 1981. In 1993 when I was appointed to teach at the Department that had taught me it was the first permanent appointment in over a decade. Next came the stripping of the student maintenance grants I had marched unsuccessfully to protect in the mid-1980s.  And then there were the infamous administrative systems for auditing the efficient use of public funds at universities by measuring the productivity of academic labor: research outputs by the Research Assessment Exercise from 1989, teaching by the Quality Assurance Agency in 1993 renamed the Teaching Quality Assessment in 1997. One consequence of this, consistent with the merging of the former polytechnic sector in 1992, was the growing incentives on a frequently dwindling and increasingly casualized labor force to admit more students and teach ever larger classes. Inevitably these auditing systems not only greatly increased the amount of time academics spent talking or writing about the research or teaching they would do if they only had the time to do it.  It also catalyzed the staggering growth of management personnel.

New Labour only made things worse.  Faced with the systematic under-funding of the universities, the expansion of student numbers (funding per student fell 40% from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s), and the decline in real terms of academic salaries, they answered the call of the last official review of the funding of higher education handed from one government to the other – the Dearing Report. If Dearing enabled the introduction of a £1,000 for tuition (and the final abolition of the maintenance grant in 1999), by 2006 it had increased to a variable rate up to £3,000. The final indignity came with the shift from the RAE measurement of academic’s research productivity – which, in the name of generating ‘output’ had arguably produced a great deal of increasingly specialized and unexciting publications – to a concern with its utility or ‘impact’ under the absurdly named Research Excellence Framework from 2008.  Unsurprisingly, as universities now answered to the Department of Business, Skills and Innovation, impact was measured in increasingly narrow and economistic terms.

Before rushing to join the denunciations of our short-sighted and philistine politicians we have to accept that no-one within the English university sector emerges from this process with much dignity.  Administrators have grown fat, plumping up their personnel, enlarging their office and buildings, as well as inflating their salaries.  Most damagingly they meekly accepted the economistic logics that drove the auditing of productivity and were naive enough to believe that the introduction of fees would supplement, not replace, state funding.  They have turned away from the public they are supposed to serve in the quest for new ‘markets’: professional schools, overseas students, and creation of empires with institutions that franchise their degrees.

The Last Professors of the public university have hardly fared better. They have been only too content to learn and internalize the new rules of the game in the name of self-advancement.  I was one of the new breed of entrepreneurial academics who had only ever worked in this system. I quickly learnt that research grants came to those who spoke whatever language the research councils were speaking in, that one had to recruit postgraduates to generate income, that quantity not quality of publications was the measure of scholarly productivity.  Those who went on research leave or won big grants for research projects were happy to hire replacements and assistants on short-term contracts.  At the opposite end others seemed content to become stars, to play musical chairs as institutions competed for prestige through big names with long CVs of publications, and to see their professorial salaries climb into the stratosphere in the name of their new market value.

The past twelve months has seen many wake up from this bad dream.  As respected individuals, programs and Departments – all festooned in the baubles of research excellence and prestige indicators – have been cut students and their teachers have mobilized. There have been marches, protests, online petitions, teach-ins and occupations.  These struggles have been very local – at Sussex, Middlesex, King’s College, etc – but those involved were in conversation with or at least virtually connected to protests elsewhere in Berlin, Berkeley and Buenos Aires.  It has been on these front-lines that the defense of the public university has begun to be articulated. And it has been the targeting of the arts and humanities in the cuts that has made it possible.

The humanities, along with the arts and even the interpretive social sciences, have become the true test of the public value of higher education. As the recession grips market models of utility and efficiency have surely been exposed as a dangerous fallacy so this is a good moment to re-articulate the purpose and role of humanities and social sciences in ways that justify renewed public investment in them.  We could have expected more from those like the British Academy or Arts and Humanities Research Board that institutionally represent the humanities in the UK. Instead, they have effectively caught themselves in arguments about economic impact and the capacity to aid national economic recovery that they are doomed to lose (see the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Leading the World and the British Academy’s The Public Value of the Humanities). We should not be surprised then that the Browne Report recommends the complete withdrawal of public funding for the teaching of the arts, humanities and social sciences in contrast to the STEM subjects that will continue to be supported.

The defense of public universities is intricately tied to arguments that can establish the public value of the humanities.  We need to get beyond the hand-wringing of those who believe only philistines require the humanities to be justified just as much as the meek reproduction of the government’s own vocabularies of impact and value.  We can and should remind the world that it is our classes that students want to take.  Despite a decade of the rhetorical marginalization of our disciplines in the UK as not relevant there are more studying in the arts, humanities and social sciences (1,073,465 in 2008/9) than in the STEM subjects (829,115) and they are growing at a faster rate (a 28% increase since 2001/2 as opposed to 20% increase for STEM).  Indeed, in all likelihood, the arts, humanities and socials sciences are cross-subsidizing the more expensive STEM fields that teach fewer students in more resource heavy infrastructures and laboratories.

Why then do we face increased demand from students for the arts, humanities and social sciences?  There is no one reason why students take these classes and we do not need a one-size fits all justification of their public value. There are for sure those that rightly view these subject areas as helping them prepare for the world of work without necessarily providing a clear career trajectory in the social field or the knowledge and culture industries.  Students recognize that even vocational training can not ensure life-long careers any longer. Instead they require a set of skills – of critical thought and analysis, of reading and digesting materials quickly, of making presentations and convincing arguments across a range of media – that equip them for a flexible labor market in which they may work across multiple sectors.

We need, however, not stop at these instrumental ends.  We should be gratified to recognize that students are no less concerned with becoming citizens of the world.  They realize that the humanities provide them with not just an education in the issues and problems that face our global society but the forms of analysis that allow us to connect our particular local experiences to sometimes global processes.  They also provide the language training necessary for us to understand the perspectives of other cultures.  No less importantly, given the democratic deficit and seemingly growing disenchantment with our political system, the humanities teach our students the critical skills they require to become active and valued citizens of our democratic life.   Often they teach them that it is possible to think of themselves in new ways, to discover a new identity and to forge around it a politics they share with others that challenges and enriches our democracy.

Finally, the humanities, like the arts and social sciences, offer us the opportunity to think otherwise.  In an age in which the financialization of everyday life appears to demand an economic value is attached to everything we need to be reminded that this was not always the case.  The humanities speak to different systems of value, different orders of pleasure and enjoyment, that we can all enjoy – of imagination, beauty, laughter and wonder.  It is these qualities afterall that make us fully human, that enable us to appreciate what is unique about our own culture as well as what it is we hold in common with the rest of humanity.

A good deal is at stake.  We must defend the vision of a publicly funded university able to support classes in subjects that do not generate economic benefits. Economic utility is not the measure of who we are or who we want to become.

James Vernon

Words, £s, and the UK higher ed budget cuts

These are two Worldle ‘word clouds’ derived from the same UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) section (pp. 51-53) of the UK Government’s Spending Review (2010), which was just released an hour ago on 20 October. The messages should be viewed in conjunction with the actual text (of course), along with the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (released on 12 October 2010). Deliberations about the tangible implications of the outlined budget cuts can be gleaned from the Times Higher Education site, the Guardian‘s spending review site, and the Universities UK site. Times Higher Education notes, ominously:

Government funding for higher education is to be cut by 40 per cent over four years, suggesting that public funding for teaching in the arts, humanities and social sciences may come to an end.

The Comprehensive Spending Review unveiled today includes a reduction in the higher education budget of £2.9 billion – from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion – by 2014-15.

The Treasury says in a statement that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which oversees higher education, will “continue to fund teaching for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects”.

However, no mention is made of other subjects.

Cuts, and types of cuts, that don’t exactly match up to the frequency of positive terms in the above word cloud. On this note I was discussing the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance with a very senior London-based corporate leader the other day and he told me:

Yes, the outlook for UK universities is grim. Given that they are one of the few remaining areas where the UK is world class (and excluding the now tarnished financial sector), even accepting that the government deficit needs to be reduced, I question the rationale for these cuts.

As well put as it could be.

Kris Olds