Stefan Collini: Sold Out

In the London Review of Books there is depressing review essay by Stefan Collini titled Sold Out (Vol. 35, No. 20, Oct. 2013). This essay is a review of Everything for Sale? The Marketisation of UK Higher Education by Brown and Carasso and The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education by McGettigan. The review essay takes us through what is happening to higher education in the UK with the cuts to teaching and the increase in tuitions. Collini summarizes the ways that these changes have opened higher-ed to private companies who can get loans for their students. The essay is a long and careful discussion of a grand experiment with no backup plan. A must read and must cry. Some quotes:

Anyone who thinks the change in 2010 was merely a rise in fees, and that things have settled down and will now carry on much as usual, simply hasn’t been paying attention. This government’s whole strategy for higher education is, in the cliché it so loves to use, to create a level playing field that will enable private providers to compete on equal terms with public universities.

Note that word ‘reform’: the implication is that there is something wrong with the present arrangements that these changes will put right. And the logic of such reform is to reclassify people as consumers, thereby reducing them to economic agents in a market. The cunning of government propaganda, in higher education as elsewhere, is to pose as the champion of the consumer in order to force through the financialisation and marketisation of more and more areas of life. Who do the student-consumers need assistance against? Who is preventing them from getting what they want and therefore should have? Universities, it seems.

Just as the replacement of public funding by fees is the vehicle for remaking universities in the image of consumer-oriented retailers, so it is also the Trojan horse which allows private capital to make a profit out of higher education.

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