2017 was an annus horribilis for universities. They’ve come in for a lot of flak and this has the sector feeling under fire. I’m all for picking holes in the way that higher education works – it’s my job to think about this – as it allows us to look at ways of making improvements. However, many of the stories that made the news are smoke and mirrors, and deflect the attention away from more important issues (most of which relate to number 6). Here’s a round-up of the main stories from 2017 and why (most of them) are less important than the amount of words wasted on them.
Not guilty (any more).
Not guilty. (Although I wish we were)
The Verdict, Your Honour? Six out of seven cases for the prosecution have been thrown out, with limited grounds for appeal. The one that we’re failing on is certainly partly our fault – we (and pretty much everyone else) have to hold our hands up and do much, much, better. So what is behind these attacks on higher education if much of the accusations are unfounded in practice? No social/political activity smoke is created without fire, and there seem to be concerted statements from politicians, lobbying groups (and their pet newspapers) to sway public opinion. Sometimes the headline or the accusation lasts in the collective memory even if the case is thrown out, and maybe that’ll happen here. What I think is going on is that we’re being primed for future changes – not that there haven’t been a lot in the last few years. But if you unsettle and divide universities, students, and academics, it makes them easier to manipulate. A major review of funding and governance in higher education has been threatened for some time, and the government is desperate to introduce more competition through existing universities varying their fees, and allowing for-profit universities into the market. In short, they’re tenderizing the meat.