The Great University Gamble

Issue section: 

Andrew McGettigan

Over the last few years Andrew McGettigan has played an important role in exposing the sweeping changes being made in higher education. The Great University Gamble makes clear that the privatisation and marketisation forced through the university system is ideologically driven.

The discussion of loans highlights this. As a consequence of increased tuition fees there has been an increase in upfront government borrowing, despite a headline £ 3 billion cut to the grants universities receive. Under the new funding regime, universities receive no extra funding, and the financial burden for funding undergraduate studies is shifted onto the individual. This is necessary to level the playing field for private providers to be able to enter the market. Further it encourages the notion of students as consumers; that education is a commodity, without reference to the wider societal benefits that it can have.

Andrew McGettigan's book is excellent at providing a detailed analysis of the changes, and consequences of these changes, in higher education. As such, it is useful as a tool for activists. The need to destabilise the currently advantageous market position of public universities has resulted in the imposition of further restrictions on undergraduate recruitment.

This has contributed, in part, to the reduction of student numbers in 2012 by 50,000 over those in 2011. When universities are now increasingly dependent on income from individual students this could lead to the financial collapse of some post-92 universities like London Met. Competition for students means that institutions have to spend increasing amounts of time and money on marketing themselves. On the tube there are now adverts for universities selling themselves as low cost.

The weakness of the book lies in not really attempting to provide a strategy for how we combat these "reforms". While the government have pulled away from trying to implement further changes through primary legislation, this does not mean that the proposals in the 2011 Higher Education White Paper are something that we do not have to continue to fight against.

The Great University Gamble shows that a campaign in defence of universities has to go beyond the cry for free education (though, of course, this remains an important campaigning slogan). The recent struggles at Sussex University and Warwick University against privatisation and outsourcing shows that students and staff are up for a fight. We face a transformation of the sector for both those who work and study in it. We need campaigns of both staff and students to oppose the current damaging changes in higher education, but also to go beyond this, articulating an alternative vision of education entirely.

The Great University Gamble is published by Pluto,£ 15