Professor Bob Brecher on the Neoliberal Onslaught in Higher Education

University of Brighton’s Professor Bob Brecher gives a great analysis and condemnation of the current (neoliberal) state of higher education, available here.


4 responses to “Professor Bob Brecher on the Neoliberal Onslaught in Higher Education

  1. Some good quotes here from Professor Bob Brecher:

    “In five years’ time .. the universities will be staffed by part-time piece-workers dedicated solely to making sure their students give them good marks in their evaluations of the ‘product’ they’re buying”;

    “A lot of young people (will) see no point in paying a fortune for the rubbish on offer here when they can get a decent education for far less on the Continent.”

    Are these really ‘predictions’, Bob, or are they your description of a local reality that you know about?

  2. They’re predictions.

    • Bob, your bit about academics “making sure their students give them good marks in their evaluations of the ‘product’ they’re buying” sure doesn’t sound like a ‘prediction’ but an observation by a professor who is part of the system as it is.
      Are not your students now your customers?
      Are not foreign students your best (highest paying) customers who are given a lower academic bar for entry (and a blind eye on their often fake credentials)?
      Is there no grade inflation at your Uni?
      Are students not given second and third chances now, whereas in the past they would simply have been failed for not working?
      Are PhDs in the liberal arts, outside of Oxbridge as difficult to get as they were?

  3. it really isn’t an observation, at least not about the university I work in; though you’re right that there’s evidence of its happening in some.

    Here in the School of Humanities, we’ve done our best to fight increasing neo-liberalisation of UK universities for the last 20 years or so: our students are determinedly not customers (and we make that clear to them); and we apply the same entry standards to all our students, wherever they’re from. But again, you’re right to think that that is happening in some places.

    Grade inflation is more complex. Certainly a first today was a 2i 25 years ago (and so on); and failing is increasingly impossible from A-levels on. But that may well be a consequence of something like 45%, rather than 5-10%, of the population going to university: a mass system – one not aimed only at reproducing academics – will have different sorts of standard. My own view is that we should acknowledge that, rather than engage in nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of education simply reinforcing class privilege (not, of course, that that’s disappeared). But the trouble is that honesty tends often to be inconvenient.

    As for ‘PhDs in the liberal arts’, my impression, from both supervising and examining PhDs, is that things have changed least at this level: not because standards aren’t what they were, but because they often weren’t what they seemed. To give just one example: when I was teaching in Khartoum in the late 1970s, I chanced to read some of my colleagues’ PhD theses, all in philosophy, all awarded by either London or Cambridge; and I have to say that here your remarks about differential standards applied only too evidently. In fact, reading those PhDs helped also to explain the remark of the external examiner in Philosophy (an eminent prof. from Cambridge) that they thought we were being rather harsh, awarding thirds to people who’d have got 2iis at Cambridge. So that form of corruption is nothing new. (Oxford and Cambridge, unlike everyone else, have no external examiners at undergraduate level to this day.)

    What’s needed in the UK is a serious public debate about what universities are for: but of course that’s increasingly unlikely. Still, Stefan Collini’s book of that name at least sets out the issues extremely well.

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