Sunday, 7 October 2007

An affair to remember

The free liberal market ideology is being constantly pursued and sustained by the UK government and the University and College Union together. On one side, the government has recently issued news of increasing investments in education for teaching science and technology subjects. On the other UCU has not wasted time in approving such a move and actually has welcomed the "increased focus on the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics ... for a new generation of students". The increased emphasis on the teaching of science subjects and mathematics is surely a product of globalisation. It has been possible due to the fact that high value is placed on information technology and other science-based industries, emphasising as such, science and mathematics education. Currently, many countries are keen to attract foreign high-tech investments and increase profits of domestic high-tech industries. These developments have, in some aspects, inflated expectations. In others, they have obfuscated ideas about how much real increase has taken place in science and math education and regarding the market value of such knowledge. For sure, the rhetoric surrounding such issues, has nonetheless greatly increased.
The internationalisation of education and knowledge and the role local government plays in the process, has been under scrutiny for some time. Comments on the role of university unions in all this have been at times dismissed as romantic diversions from the day-to-day running of the base. Although I think that it is precisely here at which a point of reflection is needed: decisions affecting university workers should at least raise some eyebrows and cannot pass down to the base without a serious, albeit limited in scope, discussion. What UCU is proposing is simply a belief. A belief in a policy which will bring prosperity and progress for future generations. But one important question is never raised: What the impact of the implemetation of this new policy will be on knowledge production, consumption, academic salaries, equality of access to knowledge and education. It is important to note how UCU is questioning the government less and less, whilst smoothing transition for the implementation of policies, irrespective of their effects on the lives of university workers, extending this also to Schools and Colleges. Education has been affected by globalisation in the UK and the goverment is seriously attempting to push forward agendas which facilitate the commodification and consumption of knowledge, as such making education more a product than a right. It is unlikely that the majority of lecturers will observe such changes at a first approach, although they will be later felt in the pay-off from the value attached to different types of knowledge.
Other effects of the implementations of globalisation of education can be seen in the fact that such reforms discourage an investment in lower-income students and facilitate an unequal distribution of income for the more 'valuable' knowledge. The UK government agenda with regard to investments on what has already been classed as 'valuable knowledge' for future generations of students, will definitely create unequal distribution of income among lecturers first and students of various disciplines later.

Globalisation/internationalisation of the curriculum and education also means a decrease in public investments in the long-term. Surely these initial investments by the UK government have been put in place in order to engage industry in such reform, leaving total control over the quality and improvement of education, in the hands of a few who guard the production of knowledge only as a profitable enterprise. The repurcussions of quality systems over academics have been extensively documented and most have depicted how oppression of university workers is possible if education and knowledge are transformed into marketable products.

"All these effects of globalisation on education are passed through the policy structures of nation states, so it is these states that ultimately decide how globalisation affects national education." (Martin Carnoy)

I am arguing and appeal for your attention to the fact that university unions have the power to negotiate with the state for equal access to education for students, along with the benefits of more equal income for lecturers, as well as improvement of education for the poor and production of knowledge with freedom by academics within a globalised economy. Although the UK has fully embraced the new ideological globalised thinking, it is still possible to resist such reforms and policies and in doing so, to overcome ineptitude within some parts of UCU.

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