Our news round-up has changed! CDBU will now be curating a monthly news round-up with more in-depth articles about higher education and related topics. If you come across a piece you feel should be included in the round-up, please email us at email@example.com.
SPOTLIGHT: Thinking about Higher Education by Ronald Barnett, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education, University College London for the CDBU blog.
Can we really think about higher education? To what extent are there spaces in universities for collective thinking about higher education? And to the extent that there are such spaces, do they not contain prompts and guard-rails that subtly steer thought in certain directions? Is thinking about higher education ever free? These are serious matters, both for higher education and for society. Universities are extraordinary institutions, not least in being primary institutions through which society can reflect on itself. Without such reflexive capabilities, society experiences a grave loss in vitality and its powers to grow diminish. The circulation of ideas is tacitly restricted and dwindles and all suffer. So universities need to be places of thought and yet that very consideration has to be put in the dock. Seventy years ago, in his book What is Called Thinking?, Heidegger commented that ‘In universities especially, the danger is still very great that we misunderstand what we hear of thinking …’ Surely, that observation has even more point today. Do we even understand what it is to think in a university setting? Examples abound almost daily, even in the United Kingdom, that cast doubt on the matter. It is not just that individuals are shouted down but it is that there are unspoken rules as to what is legitimate, rules assumed not only in the management and administration of a university but intellectually within its teaching, its seminars and in the journals. But these reflections can be pressed much further…
Sexual harassment rife in UK universities, warns staff union – The Guardian
Sexual harassment is “endemic” in universities and colleges, with one in 10 staff members saying they have experienced sexual violence in the past five years, according to a report. Women were nearly two-and-a-half times as likely to experience sexual violence as men, while staff on insecure contracts, those with disabilities, LGBTQ+, or black, Asian or minority ethnic were also at greater risk, according to a survey of nearly 4,000 staff members by the University and College Union.
Two more Hong Kong universities have taken down monuments commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) tore down a Goddess of Democracy statue while Lingnan University removed a relief sculpture. Hong Kong University earlier removed a famous statue marking the massacre of students in Beijing in 1989. The Chinese state has increasingly been cracking down on political dissent in Hong Kong. The Goddess of Democracy statue was modelled after the original statue erected by Chinese students in 1989 and paraded in Tiananmen Square just before the massacre.
UK universities took £89m from oil firms in last four years – The Guardian
Some of Britain’s most prestigious universities are among those to have shared in funds totalling at least £89m from major oil companies in the last four years, an investigation has found. Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London are among the universities to have been given funding from some of the world’s biggest companies, according to new research by openDemocracy. In recent months there has been increasing pressure on institutions to break links with fossil fuel companies. Last month, more than 40 senior academics and scientists signed an open letter vowing not to work with the Science Museum over its financial ties to major oil corporations. The museum faced several resignations over ties with Shell and a newly announced deal with the renewables company Adani Green Energy, part of the Adani Group, which has major holdings in coal.
Universities’ fossil fuel shame – The Ecologist
Universities in the UK have power in where they invest their money. And students want to hold them accountable. But the latest research from People & Planet’s University League 2021 shows there is still an urgent need for many to take public responsibility for the impact they have through their finances. Collectively, UK universities hold around £15 billion in investments, and even more in treasury funds. And the fossil fuel divestment movement has changed the conversation over the last decade. In October this year, the University of Aberdeen, an institution at the heart of Europe’s oil and gas capital, announced a commitment to divest from the fossil fuel industry after almost a decade of student campaigning. Despite this rise in awareness of investment practices within our institutions, a cloak of secrecy still surrounds university finances and the decisions guiding how and where this money is spent and saved.
Higher education providers can be powerful voices within civil society. Their scale, visibility and prestige mean they can influence policy in the private and public spheres. As institutions that represent a community of knowledge-producers they have the ability to lead innovation through their research agendas. As settings where young people form beliefs and behaviours they can be the drivers of positive societal change. They host thousands of people who live, study, work, learn and socialize on their campuses, which could become examples of a more sustainable built environment. Which is why it is disappointing that higher education providers in the UK are celebrating the agreement of unambitious government aligned targets as far away as 2050 in some cases. To put this into perspective, this is the same sector-wide target which the airport industry has set. The COP pledges would limit us to 2.4 degrees of warming if obeyed, and 2.7 degrees if current policies are followed. Higher education must therefore use its considerable resources and platform to show other sectors it is possible to go beyond government targets and achieve the rapid decarbonisation needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
UN warns over private provider expansion in developing sectors – Times Higher Education
The public benefits of universities risk being further underestimated due to the increasing packaging of education as a “consumption good”, the director of an annual United Nations report has warned. Manos Antoninis, director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, said societies had to be “very, very careful” that a growing emphasis on learning as a personal investment for financial return did not lead to a “degrading” of the “concept of education”. Dr Antoninis made the comments after the GEM launched its report for 2021-22. It shows that around a third of students across the globe are enrolled in private institutions, ranging from elite universities to “demand absorbing” smaller colleges, with the highest shares seen in Latin America and the Caribbean (54 per cent enrolled in non-state institutions) and central and southern Asia (49 per cent). Although the report says the global level has remained relatively constant in recent years, many developing countries are turning to private institutions as a way to meet increasing demand for higher education.
The emerging consensus (and this is very much a moving target as more evidence arrives) is that the Omicron variant is as severe as (or slightly less severe than) Delta, but is substantially more infectious – that latter attribute coupled with a dismaying ability to infect people who already have antibodies. The upshot is that we are facing another grim end of year. If you are vaccinated (and recently boosted) you are less likely to be hospitalised – so much official effort is focused on getting boosters into arms. But the age-stratified rollout of vaccinations mean that the young are most likely to be looking for a first or second dose than a booster. In all cases any recent vaccination (whether number 1, 2, or 3) is a very good thing. Here’s a dashboard showing vaccination status as a proportion of the registered population in those MSOA small areas. I’ve included the traditional cross-plot with students in residence (in 2018-19 – the last “normal” year) in that area. You can select a local authority area at the top and then examine individual areas via the plot or the map.
University College London has become the first university to formally cut ties to the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, saying its membership of Stonewall’s programmes could inhibit academic freedom and discussion around sex and gender. UCL announced that it would end its involvement with Stonewall’s workplace equality index, which rates employers on their policies, and its diversity schemes, following a recommendation from the university’s most senior academics. “Following a period of debate within our community and careful consideration of the issues, UCL has now taken the decision that we will not re-join Stonewall’s diversity champions programme or make a submission to the workplace equality index,” UCL said in a statement. The university said its discussions had been “informed by thoughtful and respectful debates” at its equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) committee and its academic board, with the EDI committee voting to retain involvement with Stonewall.
Severe staff shortages could undermine the government’s efforts to keep pupils in schools, with headteachers in England saying that they may be forced to send some children home if they cannot muster enough staff. Despite a pledge by Boris Johnson to avoid a repeat of January 2021, when the government insisted schools would remain open only for them to be closed after an abrupt U-turn, school leaders are warning that the rapid spread of the Omicron variant could lead to mass absences for teachers and other members of staff when schools reopen for the new year. Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the BBC that staff absences had been at “unsustainable” levels at some schools, with up to 25% of staff off in the week leading up to the Christmas break. “We don’t know what next week will look like. We’re not catastrophising that but we are saying we must have a sense of realism around this,” he said.
Retired teachers offering to ease school staffing issues are unlikely to be in classrooms when schools reopen in England, supply agencies have warned. They are being asked to go back because more Covid-related staff absences are expected next term. Agencies say they already have backlogs of potential supply teachers waiting for criminal record checks. The government says ex-teachers who sign up after Christmas would be teaching in schools “later in January”. The Department for Education (DfE) said on Monday that the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) would continue to issue 80% of enhanced checks within 14 days, adding that it would “be ready to meet any spikes in demand for its service”. However, Clare Othman, managing director of agency Supply Desk, said her agency had a backlog of around 100 candidates who were “at the final stage waiting for DBS” before the government’s appeal. “Some of these are taking a month, or two months plus, to actually come back. Each person could teach 30 children. That’s 3,000 children who could have a teacher just from us awaiting DBS checks.”
OfS’ new “readability” metric, an addition to their brawl against regulatory burden, raises important questions about agency, power, and responsibility in the higher education policy cycle. If OfS is showing itself to be doing all that it can to be transparent, meaningful, and “light touch”, the onus of breakdowns in communication and inefficiencies will increasingly fall to universities themselves. And despite a general consensus within institutions that OfS is burdensome, very little work has explored what is happening to and with the translation of regulation in the provinces of universities. In spring 2019, I spent a few months at a research-intensive institution to explore how an arts faculty was dealing with the new-ish Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) agenda. I had recruited a cross-section of 17 staff from across disciplines and job families (lecturers, academic managers, and professional services) and essentially wanted to know: who was responsible for meeting which bit of the regulatory submission and what did these “local” staff, who work alongside students, perceive to be changing because of this enhancement agenda. Though the direct usefulness of my findings was somewhat scuppered by the announcement that subject-level TEF was to be scrapped, several insights would prove helpful for quality and academic and organisational development.
‘The Professors Are the Enemy’: Right-wing attacks on academic freedom have real repercussions – Chronicle of Higher Education
The professors are the enemy.” So said J.D. Vance, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, quoting Richard Nixon at last month’s National Conservatism Conference. The irony of this statement, coming from someone who has boasted of his position as scholar in residence at Ohio State University, is indisputable. But it is important to ask why it is that Vance, and others of his political ilk, appear so viscerally hostile to higher ed. One piece of the explanation comes from another Republican, George W. Bush, who, speaking of a quite different enemy, famously declared, “They hate our freedoms.” To be sure, vilifying scholars is as old as Socrates. We have long served as convenient scapegoats for authoritarians and the closed-minded. But despite their strident claims to embrace freedom above all, it is precisely academic freedom that so incenses the J.D. Vances of the world. It is our freedom to experiment, speculate, and imagine — our freedom to go wherever our research might lead us and to share the results of that research, no matter how discomforting, free from censorship or the direction of the powerful. It is our freedom to teach the results of such research that leads Vance to charge that professors “teach that America is an evil, racist nation” and that we “train teachers who bring that indoctrination into our elementary and high schools.” And it is our boldly asserted but often endangered claim to the freedom to speak as citizens of both society and our institutions without fear of employer sanction — a freedom unavailable to the great majority of private employees — that facilitates the demagogic stoking of popular resentment.
Larry Ferlazzo has taught English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento for the past 19 years. He has written or edited 12 books on education and is about to publish his 13th. He also a writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week and a popular resource-sharing blog. And he’s written a series of posts for the Answer Sheet about schools and the pandemic. This is the 10th year that he has compiled a list of what he considers the best and worst education news of the previous 12 months (you can see links to all the news items at the end of this post). He writes: “Most years, I have wished that education was more in the news. This year, though, gave truth to the old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for …’”. As usual, these are not listed in any order of importance (except for the first ones listed under both the “best” and “worst” list). Ferlazzo wants to hear your feedback — whether you agree or disagree with his choices, and what news he missed. His choices are sure to stimulate debate.
In the second instalment of our series looking back at the best audio long reads of 2021, editor David Wolf introduces another of the long read team’s favourite pieces of the year. Josiah Elleston-Burrell had done everything to make his dream of studying architecture a reality. But, suddenly, in the summer of 2020, he found his fate was no longer in his hand.
It’s been a tough year for students – but a good one for resistance. As schools have shuffled students from in-person education to at-home learning and testing, then back again, the lines between “school” and “home” have been blurred. This has made it increasingly difficult for students to protect their privacy and to freely express themselves, as online proctoring and other sinister forms of surveillance and disciplinary technology have spread. But students have fought back, and often won, and we’re glad to have been on their side. While we’ve made some headway in protecting student privacy during the pandemic, the threats aren’t going away. Petitions and other campaigns have helped individual schools and students, but we are still pushing for Canvas, Blackboard, and other learning tools to clarify the accuracy of their logs. And we are glad that the California Bar this year is offering free re-do’s and adjusting scores of those affected by 2021’s glitch-filled experience–but that comes on the heels of the Bar also signing a lengthy agreement with ExamSoft. Proctoring must be reined in, and used more carefully; and the only data that should be collected from students should be what is required to offer proctoring services.