[dropcap]I[/dropcap]magine a world where you walk into a university for an open day and you are met with recruiters, rather than ambassadors. Where the new buildings are being built, sponsored by this management consultancy or that investment bank; and the name of the academic department is written in the small print. When you choose to fill out your UCAS form based on which company you want to work for, rather than what you want to study.
It is important to remember that university is not a cattle farm for the corporate community.
This sounds ominous. However, with the announcement of the Higher Education Green Paper which sets out the intentions of this particular government for students and universities, it sounds like a picture that might not be too far away. It is no secret that Warwick’s campus in particular is awash with market stalls and careers fairs from employers that are looking to access the UK’s top talent. Whilst it is a great thing that Warwick has such a fantastic reputation, it is important to remember that university is not a cattle farm for the corporate community. There are a fantastic number of stunning individuals who take their course and their university lives incredibly seriously. This is not always with the intention of making them more employable, but in order to broaden their horizons – ironically a phrase often used to advertise summer placements in company presentations at Warwick.
Charlie Hindhaugh, Warwick’s SU’s sabbatical education officer, in his blog, repeatedly talks about the “marketization” of the higher education environment and goes into more detail about the issues that are likely to affect you, your younger siblings and potentially your children. Everything from taking the tuition fee argument out of the hands of MPs, to imposing a ranking and criteria for academic tutors and finally (which is most damaging for us) making universities exempt from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
To give you some background, FOI requests enable us as a student newspaper to obtain information about the University and its dealings. This information is published in the public domain if it is deemed to be in the public interest. In the last few years, The Boar has broken countless stories from the roof collapse in Avon House to the pay rises of outgoing vice chancellor, Prof. Sir Nigel Thrift, in order to reveal what is going on behind the scenes. These stories has gone national, and enable us to hold the University to account if it steps out of line.
What this means effectively, is an end to accountability and an impossible task for us as a watchdog.
Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Policy at the University, has always been forthcoming with information in relation to these requests and it has meant that students have been made aware of stories that are so important that they must be told. However, this proposal is based on the understanding that universities should be on a “level playing field” with new private providers, who are already exempt from such requests. What this means is that holding the University to account in the future will be more difficult and they will not be obliged to disclose any information at all if they see fit. Effectively, an end to accountability and an impossible task for us as a watchdog.
I do not want to be a Messiah of doom and gloom. We have had fantastic relationships with all of our corporate sponsors who understand their place in the context of this paper and organisation. They complement the work that we do, and sit in unison with us, rather than being the be all and end all of our paper. We try our best to vet those interests that are not in line with our members and make decisions accordingly. It may seem to some that I am a hypocrite for what I am saying – but I think it is important to get some perspective.
The private sector has its place at universities through the right channels and students welcome their support. However, universities are not businesses, and they should not be treated like them. This green paper is about to take this University out of the hands of students and academics, and that is something that I cannot and will not support. Let’s put it back in the hands of those that matter.