Socialist Appeal recently met up with Claire Locke, president of
London Met SU, to discuss the cuts taking place at London Metropolitan
University and the fightback against them Claire described
how the Tories are conducting a class war at the University. They are
cutting humanities, arts and student support at the same time as
strengthening the business ties of the university.
Socialist Appeal recently met up with Claire Locke, president of London Met SU, to discuss the cuts taking place at London Metropolitan University and the fightback against them.
Claire described how the Tories are conducting a class war at the University. They are cutting humanities, arts and student support at the same time as strengthening the business ties of the university.
London Met has been through a turbulent few years. Two years ago, the university management announced large scale cuts. They threatened to sack one in four staff. This led to massive protests erupting. The reason was a £36 million debt to HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
“HEFCE changed its definition of what it defined as a completed student” Claire explained. The universities were now only given money for students who successfully completed all modules. This disproportionately affects universities like London Met, with many modules and many students from non-academic backgrounds. “It doesn’t make sense, if a student completes seven out of eight modules, the university has provided education for 7 modules, but according to the new rules, it gets no money at all.”
The university management refused to implement the new rules for counting completed students, handing over figures to HEFCE according to the old rules. The result was a mess. “The management did not take on the fight. In the end the whole management committee resigned and it was agreed to pay back £10 million a year to HEFCE.” 198 staff was laid off, out of the 2,000 staff in total. Yet, that was only the beginning.
Claire outlined how a plan was put forward just before the summer holidays that included a 70% cut in course portfolios and the number of modules per year was cut to four, from previous eight. Student services were to be cut by 30%. The humanities department is to be closed down and Performing Arts, a well renowned course with good retention rate is to be closed. There were rumours that management would transfer students to other universities as their courses were cut. A prospect that was not appealing.
“That was when the students decided to occupy the graduate centre,” Claire explained, referring to the occupation that took place at the beginning of May. That occupation, which was evicted by the police in the middle of the night, managed to win a concession from the management: no student would be transferred to another university without their consent. Still, what that means in practice, remains to be seen.
The university is in the process of a major overhaul, it is clear. All courses have to be self-financing; no cross-subsidisation is to be allowed. All degrees will be employability linked. As Claire says, now “university isn’t just to get a job. It’s about making money [for the university.] It is not education – it’s training.” Management has even gone so far as to label the students “customers,” prompting one of the students to make a sign saying ‘we’re students – not customers,’ which is proudly on display in the student union office window.
We discussed the changes going on to higher education in Britain. London Met is clearly part of a wider process. “They are destroying what education really is. A lot of universities will become very stiff and isolated, particularly the redbrick”. That is, the old polytechnics are being particularly targeted for these changes. Older universities will most likely be less affected. The direction is towards business.
In London Met the business school is seen as the main asset, situated in Moorgate in the heart of the City. The vice-chancellor is on the board of Holland’s only private university. He also recently set up a new executive position specifically for education secretary David Willets’ former researcher.
The university management clearly has strong links with the Tory party hierarchy.
In the programme of cuts, humanities suffer the heaviest blows, whereas business does relatively well. This in spite of the fact that humanities has among the highest satisfaction rates in the university and business the lowest. The history degree is the subject that does best in the league tables. Claire herself did a business degree but sees the value of humanities. “It’s ideological”, she says. “They don’t want people like me to study things like humanities.”
“It’s a massive attack on education… What we’re going through is a class war: working class students will not have opportunity to move up and education becomes a preserve for rich people, and they are making money out of it. What is happening at London Met is a reflection of all the bad things that are to come.” “Who are the people that are in most need of student services?” Claire asks rhetorically. London Met used to have three nurseries, now the last one is about to close. “It’s an attack on the most vulnerable.”
London Met Student Union is lobbying NUS to call another demonstration. UCU and UNISON at the university have already taken strike action against the cuts. As students return to campuses in the autumn, things will clearly heat up again.