University teachers: an endangered species?

Opinion Piece by Marina Warner

Current policies are imposing business practices on education, and the consequences are blighting the profession, and will continue to inflict ever deeper blight on the people engaged in it – at all levels. The relinquishing of financial support by the state is not accompanied by diminution of authority: indeed the huge expansion of management follows from direct state interference in education as well as other essential elements of a thriving society.

Last September I wrote an article for the London Review of Books about my departure from the University of Essex, followed by another piece in March reflecting on the perversion of UK Higher Education. The responses I had to these articles came from people at every stage of the profession. I had feared that I was a nostalgic humanist, but if I am, the ideals of my generation have not died. Access to education to high standards fits very ill with business models – as the strong drift towards removing the cap on fees shows. The result of the market will be an ever-deepening divide between elite universities at one end and ‘sink’ institutions at the other.

I am going to focus on those who fulfil the prime purpose of the whole endeavour; that is those who pass on their knowledge and foster the spirit of inquiry and understanding in their students: the teachers.

First, the policies that are now being discussed, changing the rules regarding Further Education in particular, will need more and more teachers. Yet throughout the profession there is a shortage, and the toll taken on those who do teach in higher education is heavy and growing heavier – economically, psychologically, socially.

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