Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Panic on the streets of Oxbridge

The universities are up in arms. Again. Sort of.

Dons at both Oxford and Cambridge are threatening votes of no confidence in the Government's universities policy. Moves are afoot to secure votes of no confidence from faculty and students throughout the UK.

This blog supports these initiatives. As remarked here many times, higher education is at the forefront of the ConDem spending cuts, and is a key battleground against the government. Your host endorses the No Confidence campaign, and encourages readers to do what they can to support it.

Exalted claims are already being made about these developments. Writing at Labourlist earlier, David Barclay heralded the Oxford vote as an opportunity to challenge the ConDems. Comparing the Dons' potential vote to the recent votes of no confidence in healthcare policy by nurses and doctors' organisations, Barclay concluded,
When the Dons of Oxford process into the historic Sheldonian Theatre next Tuesday then, they should surely be watched very closely by Labour supporters all over the country. Should the No Confidence campaigners emerge victorious it could be a late but nonetheless very valuable wedding present from Ed’s alma mater.
Things are far less straightforward than this suggests. One of the great strengths of the Thatcher government was its ability to play to a right-wing populist crowd, presenting itself as challenged entrenched interests and handed-down privilege - in the civil service, say, or in academia.

The spectacle of the faculties of ancient universities taking on the government could provide Cameron with an opportunity to revive the Thatcher anti-elitist show. Academia is widely misunderstood and mistrusted. It is not particularly difficult to portray the very real concerns of people working in universities as the whining of a pampered profession.

The antidote to this is a broad-based anti-cuts movement, that links together various issues - bringing education workers into contact with pensioners, workers in both public and private sectors, and benefit claimants - broadly based and with a meaningful presence in communities. The truth is that we are not where we should be in terms of building this. The anti-austerity message is not being communicated effectively. Large numbers of people still subscribe to the 'there is no alternative' position. We have to step up our game, and in the absence of us doing so, there is little point in getting over-excited about simmerings of academic discontent.

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