The Tory Dream Future for UK Higher Education Begins. Or, Inequality Commodified

June 5, 2011

David Cameron, Gideon “Call me George” Osborne, and David “No Two Brains” Willets must be wetting themselves with excitment. Their plans to open up third level education to private providers (including from the US) have received a major boost with news that a new private university has been founded in London with the aim of soon ranking alongside Oxford and Cambridge. Fees will be £18,000 per annum. The new university is called New College of the Humanities. Its website boasts that

New College of the Humanities is a new concept in university education. It offers education in excellence and an outstanding academic environment in the heart of London. The College was founded by 14 of the world’s top academics

Who are these 14 academics? It is a list drawn from people who currently work (and from the looks of things will continue to work) at some of the world’s best-known universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, and University College London. It is filled with well-known (and some might say annoying) names including AC Grayling, Niall Ferguson, Ronald Dworkin, Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins. All these people will teach, and if you are one of the lucky few who can afford it accepted, you will soon be on first name terms with all your fellow students and the staff. I’m sure that those who turn up expecting weekly one-to-one tutorials with the likes of Richard Dawkins will in no way be disappointed. Actually

New College has a world-class team of Professors with a stellar reputation for academic excellence, supported by a young, talented team of tutors and other teaching staff. All of them are committed to teaching and research.

Our Professors and tutors are international experts in their chosen fields. You will meet and hear these world-leading academics. You can attend Professorial lectures even if they are not in your own subjects.


All this for £18,000? A bargain you might think, especially if you are lucky enough to get one of the full scholarships, or to have your fees reduced by two-thirds. No numbers for these are available on the college’s website at this time, but they say more than a fifth of students will have scholarships or exhibitions, meaning no fees or reduced fees. The scholarships are means tested: the exhibitions are by competition. In other words, the richest person in the world can get one, and feel that they earned it, without having to trouble themselves about how inequality may have contributed to such a situation in the first place (to pick up a theme from Walter Benn Michael). I may have missed it, but I didn’t notice any reference to the scholarship including living expenses.

And just look at the Advisory Board.

Members are drawn from public and academy schools as well as from the private sector, and are chosen for their expertise in relevant areas.

Filled then with the heads of several of the most elite schools in England, and some random people from business, publishing and media. No need, obviously, to explain what relevant expertise to a university education they are bringing. I am sure the head of a secondary school or a publisher knows loads about running a university or teaching in one. It certainly couldn’t be that they expect the atmosphere at this new institution to be like a cross between public school and Oxbridge, and are therefore getting on board people who understand how to pander to the needs of their target audience.

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have also been firmly pushing this idea of opening up higher education to alternative providers. Clegg has also attached the use of old boy networks and unpaid internships. I wonder what he thinks about this reason for choosing the new institution. From the message of AC Grayling, the Master of this new institution.

Professional Skills will give you the tools to write well, present your ideas, lead and work in teams, read a balance sheet, and understand the worlds of finance, business and employment. You will be ready to make an immediate contribution in business, government, media or the arts following graduation. You will have a dedicated member of College staff who will arrange vacation internships for work experience. They will help you with CV preparation and securing interviews with leading firms as graduation approaches.

I guess you get what you pay for. But what is it, exactly, that you get? The answer is that the new institution will not, in fact, be awarding degrees of its own. It will be awarding Diplomas. The degrees will come from the University of London, and students will have access to University of London facilities.

So what we have is a private institution that will not in fact award degrees of its own, but award you the same degree that you can get from several other institutions across London, and where there seems to be as good a chance of ending up being taught for a substantial period by a world-class scholar. Maybe the Tories and their yellow LibDem allies shouldn’t be getting over-excited after all.


Geordie Shore: Review

May 29, 2011

Worst programme ever. Bar none.

Interview with John Lowry at Sluggerotoole

May 3, 2011

Good interview by Alan in Belfast with John Lowry, Workers’ Party west Belfast candidate, as party of his series talking to the smaller parties.

The French Football Federation: Betraying the Republic?

May 1, 2011

I’m a fan of the principles on which the French Republic is founded, especially the idea that all French citizens are the same and are treated the same, regardless of their background. The problem of course being that all-too-often, the French Republic fails to live up to its own principles, whether that has been religious symbols in schools or the treatment of people of colour. The victory of the French football team in the World Cup in 1998 was portrayed as a symbol of the success of the French Republic’s values on integration – Black, Blanc, Beur were now all simply Bleu. I was in France a few months after the World Cup, and that was definitely more reflective of the feeling among those I spoke too than Le Pen’s complaints about the team.

So what on earth is going on with the French Football Federation then? The allegations that senior football officials, including the manager and former captain Laurent Blanc, had agreed on an illegal and immoral quota to limit the number of players of colour are astounding, and sickening. The Football Federation does not deny that such a discussion took place, but said that it was a matter of trying to limit wasting resources on training players who then choose to play for another country. This has been Blanc’s line as reported today.

The excuses sound almost plausible, but when placed alongside some of the quotes from the original allegations, they are hard to take seriously.

At another meeting, the French national team coach Laurent Blanc allegedly backed changing youth talent selection criteria to favour players with “our culture, our history”. Sources claimed Blanc cited current world champions Spain, saying: “The Spanish, they say: ‘We don’t have a problem. We have no blacks.'”

The website claimed Blanc had suggested that a stereotype of player, which he described as “large, strong, powerful”, needed to be changed. Blanc allegedly told a meeting of senior federation figures: “And who are the large, strong, powerful? The blacks. That’s the way it is. It is a current fact. God knows that in the training centres and football academies, there are lots.”

Not much about dual nationality in these quotes.

There is an investigation underway, the director of football has been suspended, and we’ll see what happens. These discussions as reported represent a challenge to the fundamental principles of the French Republic (never mind basic human decency). It’s hard to see how any of those involved can credibly stay in their jobs. For the good of the Republic as well as the team, they should go.

Trade Unions Call Peace Rally for Belfast City Hall, April 6th at 1pm

April 4, 2011

The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions calls on all workers and their families to show their outrage at the barbaric murder of constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh last weekend.

Please meet at Belfast City Hall, at 1pm, on Wednesday 6th April 2011

Peter Bunting, Assistant General Secretary of the ICTU, said: ““The murder of Police Officer Ronan Kerr in Omagh was an attack on a brave public servant and therefore an attack on every worker who serves the community and works towards a better future.

“The assassins targeted Constable Kerr because he was Catholic, and that makes this a sectarian murder, deliberately aimed at intimidating one section of the community.

“All citizens must stand together to show that we will not be intimidated by violence or threats from armed groups who should now publicly disband

“This public event being organised by the Trade Union Movement is open to all citizens, the vast majority of whom support the democracy we have achieved in this region. We all depend upon the maintenance of peace, democracy and justice.

“We urge all people who can attend the short event at Belfast City Hall at 1pm on Wednesday 6th April to do so.”

When is an Aid Worker not an Aid Worker? Or the BBC’s use of language

March 13, 2011

“Cuba jails US aid worker Alan Gross” – thus runs a BBC headline on the fact that the Cubans have gaoled a US citizen in Cuba. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I hear the term aid worker, I think of someone working for a non-governmental organisation such as the Red Cross or Trócaire or Oxfam. What I don’t think of is someone undertaking illegal work as a contractor for a US governmental agency aimed at changing the political system of a country that the US has blockaded for 5 decades. It might just be me, but this language seems very much like an attempt to put as anti-Cuban a spin as possible on this story. Compare it to the description of the Miami Five who were engaged in anti-terrorism work here. Someone at the BBC – like the entire newsroom – needs to learn what objectivity is.

Sectarianism in Children

March 12, 2011

Depressing tale from Moochin Photoman at Sluggerotoole of the sectarianism he has witnessed among children. This is the reality of life in Northern Ireland still.

International Women’s Day Speech

March 8, 2011

The following is taken from the WP website.

International Women’s Day Rally, Bray, Co Wicklow

Speech by Valerie Hayes

Workers’ Party Central Executive Committee

Sadly, International Women’s Day 2011 in Ireland is not a cause for major celebration. Undoubtedly there has been significant progress over the last century and specifically over the last 40 years. But the objective of true equality has never been reached, and now that objective faces new and severe pressure.

We are all aware of the global crisis of capitalism which has engulfed whole continents over the last few years. We can see around us the devastation wreaked by that collapse in mass unemployment, ghost estates, rising emigration and the infamous EU/IMF deal. We know that the mantra from the right which says we are in all this together is a downright lie and a deliberate political deception. As ever there is a clear class divide. The rich still get richer and the workers carry the can. Bankers still get bonuses and we get swingeing cutbacks. But it must be said clearly that the burden of the recession falls disproportionally on women, and that the 2011 budget in particular was profoundly anti-woman.

Women make up by far the greatest percentage of low paid and part-time workers in the economy. Tourism, retail, services, and hospitality sector have always employed large numbers of women on a part time and often seasonal basis. They are all notorious industries for low pay, bad conditions and operating within the black economy. Traditionally also these industries have actively and viciously discouraged trade union membership amongst the workforce.

The one Euro reduction in the hourly minimum wage, representing a real cutback of 12% was, therefore, largely an attack on women. Not only was it an attack on women, it was an attack on the most vulnerable section of women in the workforce. As can be seen from the recent dispute in the Davenport Hotel many of the lowest paid women have come from other EU countries to work here. They may have language problems, no family to act as support; and a fear of joining the Trade Union Movement because of threats of victimisation. While we may celebrate at the success of the Davenport strikers we must ask how many other bosses have not been highlighted, have not been brought to the Labour Court and have succeeded in slashing already meagre wages.

One of the more despicable cuts in the December budget was the cut in the carers’ allowance. This revealed the real contempt which the Fianna Fáil / Green Party / PD rump had developed for the vulnerable in this society. This contempt is most evident when the cut in the carers’ allowance is contrasted with the cushy deal offered to already over-paid consultants and the big-wigs in the HSE hierarchy. We realise of course that the attack on carers was not gender neutral. The vast majority of carers are women, so the vast majority of the victims of that cynical cutback are women.

Right throughout Budget 2011 we can see the same anti-women bias. From cutbacks in community projects and the community development programme to changes in pension entitlement for public servants, that bias is evident. In Cameron’s England the very same pattern emerges. In Stormont, Sammy Wilson MLA, Minister for Finance in the Sinn Féin / DUP Executive, has just last weekend produced an equally regressive budget.

Tomorrow in the Republic we will have a new government, a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Labour with 66% of Dáil seats between them. We already know their programme for government. While it is carefully crafted for the catchy soundbite and the occasional sweetener, I see no solution there for our problems. The incoming government totally avoids tackling wealth and inequality; avoids tackling the robbery of our natural resources; avoids any radical decisions on either the banks or the bailout. So, as I said we may have a sweetener like the restoration of the minimum wage, but will we get the retention of the REA for the pub, hotel, and catering trade?

It is as important now as it was in 1910 when Clara Zetkin, secretary of the organisation International Socialist Women, organised the first International Women’s day conference that women are organised in all the progressive political, social, and trade union movements. Women must be to the forefront of the socialist movement. We must not allow this economic crisis and the brutality of the capitalist response to sap our energy. If we continue to organise and struggle we still have so much to gain. On the other hand if we relax and cease our vigilance we have so much to lose. We cannot cease now, we cannot surrender now. The struggle for equality and freedom continues.

What does it mean to be a socialist party in the 21st century? The Future of the CPUSA

February 17, 2011

There has been an ongoing debate simmering in the Communist Party of the United States of America over its future direction. There have been sharp differences of opinion over the correct attitude to and significance of Obama’s election, and how the CP should try and address itself to ongoing developments. There has been talk that some within the leadership would like to change the name of the Party, or to go into a broader left formation, while others remain wedded to the more traditional view of what the CP is, and what it is for. It’s not clear where all this is going, but Sam Webb, the Chair of the CPUSA, has recently published an article outlining his personal views on some of these questions, A Party of Socialist in the 21st Century: What it Looks Like, What it Says, and What it Does. Needless to say, it makes for interesting reading. Although it is clearly addressed to the situation in the US, it raises issues for the left everywhere. It makes arguments regarding both theory and practice that challenge traditional assumptions among communists. It’s a long document made up of 29 different points, but what does it boil down to?

Read the rest of this entry »

Spot the Difference

February 11, 2011

A Weasel

Nick Clegg