Thursday, 16 September 2010

Glasgow University’s List of Shame

The Herald today reports details of a leaked document from Glasgow University that sets out in very stark terms how the University intends to make savings in its budget between now and 2012/13.
In this document the University has ranked each of its departments into four categories. The departments with the highest international rankings become ‘invest’ departments, where the University will focus its funding to become a world leader. The next departments down become ‘improve’ departments that will not receive any additional funding. Below that is ‘reshape’ departments, which are likely to see their budgets downsized and finally there are ‘remove’ departments where courses will simply no longer be offered. Included in those earmarked for removal are adult and continuing education, anthropology, dermatology, nursing and social work.
What is surprising about this document is not that Glasgow University is considering how it might make £20 million a year of savings, unfortunately that is the financial situation the University finds itself in, due to decisions being made at a national level. No, what is surprising is the way Glasgow has determined what is of value and what is not.
Academia has long resisted the pull of pure, unadulterated market forces. Instead universities have prided themselves on placing the pursuit of knowledge and a drive for excellence as their raison d'être. But in this document Glasgow simply sees itself in economic terms and this perhaps marks the beginning of a significant shift in the set up of university education across Scotland.
In this approach, Glasgow has allowed international league tables and survey results to dictate completely and absolutely the courses they offer and the level to which that course is funded. No other value is considered. This is why we can see something like adult education being placed right at the bottom of the list. It’s true that this sort of course is not as glamorous as some of the others offered at the University and it certainly doesn’t bring in large research grants and international acclaim. But that does not mean that it is without value. Adult education opens the University’s doors to the wider community. It gives people the opportunity to keep learning throughout their careers and to raise the level of their skills and is therefore of great value to the learner and contributes to the Scottish economy through increased skills levels. The University, therefore, is wrong to disregard it so out of hand.  
And this is what is so hard to stomach about this document – the callous nature of it all. By ranking their departments in this way, based only on the views of surveys and league tables, not the thoughts and opinions of learners and staff who are present in these departments today, the University has sent a clear message about who and what they value and why.  
The University says they are only beginning the process and nothing has been decided yet, but if this is a sign of things to come, I can only feel sympathy for the staff and students whose contribution the University has dismissed so outright.
Helen Martin- STUC.

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