Different funding, different universities?

Right now there is a higher level of uncertainty in higher education, across much of the world, than has probably ever been seen before in peacetime. As the world economy grew rapidly over the past decade or two governments pumped money into universities, though at the same time also often significantly increasing higher education participation. Now everything has changed, and all over the world funding for universities and colleges is being cut. In addition in some countries some of the funding burden is being re-allocated from the taxpayer to students.

A current example of the kind of pressures that are now threatening to overwhelm the system is that of the University of Glasgow, where a battle is being fought about the extent and nature of expenditure cuts. According to a report on the BBC website, the university is seeking to implement cuts of £20 million, and areas where cuts are thought to be imminent include language courses, nursing, social work and anthropology. This raises another issue: as cuts force universities to close certain subject areas, will this change the way in which the university interacts with those who take an interest in its activities?

Whether the cuts perhaps planned by the University of Glasgow go ahead or not is, to the rest of us, not as emotive a subject as it is to staff and students there. But where a university’s portfolio of teaching and research has been planned and developed over a number of years, stripping out parts of it at short notice may have an impact well beyond the areas affected. The whole university may become a fundamentally different institution.

Right now higher education in a number of countries is being buffeted by the economic storm. We may think that all this is a shame, but we must escape from our debt burden as soon as possible, and so our economy will now have to work very differently from before. But what of the universities? Are they still to be the high value education and training ground for the next group of national leaders? What does government expect of them: are they to be agents of economic recovery, or are they to teach a probably contracted range of programme options and avoid over-ambitious research programmes? Are they to be single-location institutions, or does the multi-campus model still have some life in it? What will be an acceptable mix of disciplines, and which ones can a university just leave out?

The strategy of just muddling through while the storm rages will not work for most universities. We now need to develop a new vision for a new university sector.

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7 Comments on “Different funding, different universities?”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    At a time when economic storms rage all around us, mine might be a rather naive view of what is the ‘ontology’ of a university, its public essence and ultimately its innate dialogism – a term that from its literary criticism roots I’d like to extend to the capacity to establish a communicative tension i.e. active forms of communication with other (living)social entities. I bracketed ‘living’ because I see universities exactly as living beings, beings that are in need of all their organs to survive, when one such organs fails the whole organism is in peril. Out of metaphor what is happening in Glasgow (and elsewhere for that matter)is emblematic of such a danger. Altering the mix of subjects taught is irrevocably going to change the essence of that university. I’m not advocating a model of university as a static, immutable being (communication & dialogism implicitly admit change)what I would expect is that ‘the new vision for the new university sector’, as you put it, should be informed by considerations that are not exclusively dictated by the economic constraints of the ‘here and now’, a vision brave enough to consider the longue durée dimension of the historical process we are witnessing

  2. Fred Says:

    Agree with Anna.
    I have doubts about the vision that the political forces have(if any)for the University sector. I think that there is a danger of myopia in the short term planing. So at this stage an emphasis should be given to the individual university leaders that should have a clear (and brave) log-term vision for their institutions. That should be something for a start…

  3. Dr. Notaro,
    I’m sorry to say it, but your comment is very informative as to why the humanities are prime targets for cuts – just not the way you meant.
    It has a readability level (Flesch Kincaid reading ease) of 19, (compared to 32 for the original post – about the level of the Harvard Law Review, apparently) and it sent me to the dictionary three times (Granted, I trained as a geologist: Me big words not know). But if you can’t clearly communicate the value of the university, and specifically the humanities, in the vernacular, it’s going to get axed, rightly or wrongly.
    I’m sorry if I sound somewhat harsh, and don’t take it personally, but many in the humanities need to take a step back and up and make a clear case to the general public for what they do.
    And, for the record, I agree with what I think you said.

    • anna notaro Says:

      I am glad I confirmed a stereotype, or better I made the case obvious for humanities to be axed, at least that made for some successful communication! Given my training I can of course use several linguistic registers (explanation only one click away at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Register_(sociolinguistics)
      according to the circumstances or the particular purpose, I am sorry that you had to use the dictionary three times to fully understand my comment, I personally have no particular problems in looking a word up when necessary, it’s the chance to learn something new and learning/sharing knowledge is exactly what belonging to a community like this one is about.
      By the way you can address me as Anna only please..

      • Anna,
        Fair enough, I don’t doubt you can hop in and out of humanities mode (or, indeed Linguistic register). I’m not at all put out about needed to flick to the dictionary (reaction: “Oh, a new word, cool”), but my point is that most people won’t bother to go for the dictionary. Many in the humanities seem to wear an abstruse linguistic register as a protective cloak, which does their disciplines no favours when straight talk is called for.
        And Apologies for the Dr. I was conscious my point, while I think it needed making, was frankly, rather pointy. I thought the overly deferential salutation might balance that somewhat.

        • anna notaro Says:

          there is some truth Robert in what you say about some type of language used as ‘a protective cloak’, on the other hand that same observation cannot be used as a valid reason to axe the humanities. I have used ‘straight talk’ in this forum before, both in my comments and in my invited post on the purpose of Media Studies on Feb. 8th, I’ll try and avoid ‘dialogism’ from now on in everybody’s interest…good though that, with some effort, you still were able to agree with my point

  4. Ernie Ball Says:

    “as cuts force universities to close certain subject areas”

    Strangely, the people in the university who are always and everywhere invulnerable to cuts are the management drones and self-styled “executives” who implement them. Which is a way of saying that we don’t agree that anyone is “forced” to close subject areas.

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