Blueprint for bosses to shape degrees
By David Turner, Education Correspondent
Published: February 25 2008 22:04 | Last updated: February 25 2008 22:04
Employers would gain significant new powers to shape higher education degrees under a confidential blueprint circulating inside Whitehall.
The 23-page paper, titled a “Higher Level Skills Strategy” and seen by the Financial Times, sets out the case for devoting the bulk of extra university funding over the next three years to degrees jointly designed and funded by employers.
The document underlines the government’s determination to create a higher education sector mainly aimed at boosting the economy, in spite of claims by some academics that giving business more say in education risks tainting the status of degrees.
The paper, marked “restricted – policy”, acknowledges the “significant up-front risks” for universities that tailor courses to business needs, saying “an institution may worry about its public image; whether going down this road makes it less of a ‘real’ university”. However, it says that universities should offer a range of reforms “that an employer and employee will want”. It suggests options such as degrees that start at different times of the year; timetables that let students vary the intensity of their studies; courses taught 48 weeks a year, both online and in the workplace, and without the traditional university breaks.
Universities that agree to increase co-operation with business would be given “extra resources”, says the paper, which covers only England as most education policy is devolved.
The document, produced by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and expected to be published this year, is dated November 2007 but is understood to reflect the department’s current thinking.
It outlines plans for “continued growth” in student numbers “over the next three years”, although it does not give a figure. It makes clear however there is little further room for expansion of old-style degrees designed by academics and financed by public spending.
“We expect the great majority of this growth to be in provision that is developed with employer input – either foundation degrees [two-year vocational degrees co-designed by employers] or employer co-funded places,” the document says. The document then warns that it expects growth to be “initially concentrated in those institutions which have shown they are able and willing to commit to working closely with employers”.
The paper mentions repeatedly the need for universities to provide more of what employers want because universities’ traditional mainstay, 18-year-olds fresh out of school and not yet in the workplace, is set to fall.
It also praises local institutions such as the Combined Universities in Cornwall for having “unlocked demand from people who would not have applied to anywhere that was not local”.
Emphasis added by myself – you will note that education policy is not decided by a devolved English parliament, and MPs whose constituencies are not in England can vote to implement these neoliberal policies knowing there’s no comeback.
Meanwhile in the socialist press, the Socialist Worker reports on Richard Tice’s choice words:
The “progressive” face of New Labour’s academy programme slipped this week, after a leading academy sponsor spoke of his desire to deny parents the right to appeal over exclusions and described teaching unions as a “block to reform”.
Richard Tice is the chair of Northampton academy and a member of the United Learning Trust – the biggest academy sponsor in Britain.
He has written a paper on the academies programme for Reform – a right wing think tank committed to “liberalising” the public sector.
The paper makes queasy reading – with much talk of the need to run schools with a “business orientated culture”.
Tice laments the fact that parents and children have the right to appeal against exclusions, arguing that appeals “waste significant time and resources”.
In contrast, his own academy has agreed to have a part time police officer stationed in a “prominent location” in the school to “improve discipline”.
As parents “can be a serious factor in undermining school authority”, Tice suggests introducing a “discipline contract” between parents and schools.
Tice also attacks teaching unions and national conditions of employment.
He wants the right to introduce performance related pay and “incentives” for teachers.
Tice claims about how it “takes far too long” to sack “failing” teachers, and writes that schools should be “genuinely free to set their own levels of teachers’ pay and conditions”.
Tice has spelled out the dangerous reality of New Labour’s academy programme.
In an amazing line, he says, “It appears to me the unions have been too successful in representing their members’ interests.” They need to keep doing so – because the future described in this paper awaits them if they don’t.
As these revealations are the tip of the iceberg, it’s understandable the NUT is balloting members for strike action this week.
From SW again:
Over 250,000 teachers in the NUT union will be balloted from Thursday of this week on whether to hold a one-day strike over their below-inflation pay offer. If teachers vote yes in the ballot it could lead to the first national teachers strike in over 20 years.
Kevin Courtney, a member of the NUT’s national executive, told Socialist Worker, “The ballot is important because it is part of a battle for the whole public sector.”
Teachers have been given below-inflation pay deals since 2005. The latest three-year offer would give them a 2.45 percent rise this year and 2.3 percent for the two years following.
As the RPI rate of inflation is running at around 4 percent this amounts to a pay cut.
At the same time the job of teaching is getting harder. Government restrictions on teaching methods and increased testing and inspections in schools has meant a massive rise in teachers’ workload and school bureaucracy.
On a wider level, teachers and schools are often seen as the solution to problems that children face in wider society, such as poverty, and are blamed when they “fail” to help children overcome them.
In this context, the prospect of yet another pay cut feels like a slap in the face.
“There is a very strong feeling among teachers that we are overworked and underpaid,” said Paul Grist, a teacher in north Yorkshire.
“People are very annoyed that the government’s calculation of inflation doesn’t take into account the real rises in the cost of living.”
The pay cut will especially affect newly qualified teachers on the lowest pay grades.
Sara Tomlinson is the joint branch secretary of Lambeth NUT in south London. She told Socialist Worker, “In Lambeth more than a third – some 500 out of 1,300 teachers – are young teachers.
“They will be hit hardest by the pay offer – they are on the lowest pay grade and have to deal with student debts. Teachers spend at least four years training, but about a third leave within four years of the job.”
Julie Mukherjee, a teacher in Camden, north London, told Socialist Worker that teachers feel undervalued by the government.
“However long teachers work – whether we work late marking or have to go to parents’ evenings – we don’t get any overtime pay,” she said
Teachers have already been building for a yes vote. For many this will be their first experience of organising and taking part in a strike ballot.
“Younger teachers in my school all joined the teaching unions when they were training,” said Paul. “But they don’t automatically see trade unionism as being about taking collective action. The dispute will hopefully change this.”
Mac Andrassy is a union rep at Count Hill School in Oldham. “People in our school are quite confident,” he said. “We have been on strike a few times over the last few years.
“We had a meeting for union reps last week to discuss building the yes vote. We’ve organised to get into primary schools to do meetings on the ballot, and will also make contact with the UCU lecturers’ union.”
Similar activities are being organised up and down the country.
Elections for the NUT executive, which began on Wednesday of last week, will also be key for activists who want to make sure that left wing candidates who are committed to fighting for decent pay are elected.
Many teachers are connecting the issue of pay with the wider political and ideological attack on education.
“We’ve got a meeting with Children’s Laureate Mike Rosen on Thursday that will be very popular,” said Stefan Simms, assistant branch secretary at Ealing NUT in west London. “Teachers are pissed off because we have less and less control over what we teach.
“In my school I’m confident that the strike will be very solid – we’ve had new teachers joining and lapsed union members rejoining the NUT because of the ballot.
“We’ve phoned all the reps in our area and all members have had a mailing as well. We have a reps’ training meeting on Tuesday of this week to organise to get the vote out.”
Kevin adds, “We need to remember the other unions within schools, such as Unison, and involve them in the workplace meetings.”
Crucially, the UCU lecturers’ union has also called a ballot – due to begin on 14 March – of lecturers in further education over their below-inflation pay offer.
If both ballots win a yes vote, lecturers and teachers will strike together on 24 April, closing schools and colleges across the country and sending a message to Gordon Brown that he won’t get away with imposing his public sector pay freeze.