October 1, 2014

The global attack on public higher education

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Revolution in the streets

Two days of my holiday were spent in the lovely city of Madrid. We witnessed there, just outside our hotel, the now daily mass demonstrations against the austerity cuts in Spain. Spain is no Greece, but it has been hit particularly hard because their banks over-extended themselves in silly, unsecured loans that drove mainly the construction industry. Now public servants such as teachers, civil servants, and health workers are being told their salaries and pensions will be cut, and there will be reduced funding for post-secondary education,  in order to pay off the massive debt the government has occurred in bailing out their banks. As Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas says in ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’: ‘This is the perfect solution: privatize the profits and nationalize the losses.’

Change the rules

Meanwhile, the British government, having increased undergraduate tuition fees to £9,000 ($14,000) a year resulting in a 30% drop in enrolment applications in England and Wales, is also planning to make it harder for children to pass the school exams, thus reducing the ‘demand’ for higher education even further (under 40% of a cohort in Britain currently go on to post-secondary education – Ontario is currently at 63% and aiming for 70%). I care about this because I have four British grandchildren, and a son and daughter-in-law who are professors in a British public university.

Don’t pay taxes

Then I read the following:

National Science Board (2012) Diminishing funding and rising expectations: trends and challenges for public research universities Washington DC: National Science Board.

The NSB ‘supervises the collection of a very broad set of policy-neutral, quantitative information about U.S. science, engineering, and technology.’ It found:

  • State support for public research universities fell 20 percent between 2002 and 2010, after accounting for inflation and increased enrollment
  • Ten states saw support fall 30 percent or more
  • State funding has fallen from 38 percent of university budgets two decades ago to 23 percent now
  • Many are losing their best faculty to private institutions
  • Tuition increases in response to the budget cuts threaten the affordable access students have enjoyed
  • Private universities increased spending on teaching 25 percent over the same period, and now spend more than twice as much per student on teaching as their public counterparts
  • Revitalizing public research universities requires action from a range of players — more funding from Washington, more autonomy from states if they won’t maintain funding levels, and more productivity from universities themselves.

Of course, if you refuse to pay for or vote for state taxes, then the state can’t support public universities.

 

Comments

  1. It’s a global attack on the working class and opportunities for poor and lower class (lower class does equal working class) students that has been going on for almost 25 years where the benefits of improved worker productivity have been siphoned off to corporate profits: http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=139.
    I am more and more convinced that this has been a conscious choice of the capitalist class worldwide since the 60′s revolts/democratic movements since the Fordist/New Deal measures did not deliver the social stability that was promised to the rich. How long would it take to adjust a large social policy? 10-15 years to make the move from LBJ’s war on poverty to Reagan/Thatcher/+4 for Mulroney. The “social contract” of the rich being rich in stable exchange for some income distribution was broken by those the unruly democrats and since then, partly due to globalization and partly by conscious choice, the middle and lower class need to not take part in the benefits of increased productivity. The education sector, due to its intrinsic benefit to the capitalist class, is just the last victim of this “adjustment.” If I could reduce this post by a few more characters, I could have a dissertation in a tweet.

    • Or sorry, and the same class that gets trained/propagandized against voting for any taxes votes against any taxes that would most likely directly help their own children, sadly enough.

  2. tom abeles says:

    hi tony

    I wish the issue were as simple as you are making it. As long as the private and public sectors could live large on the real estate bubble and as long as there was no question that regardless of cost, the debt of a college degree could be amortized over a reasonable period of time, there was no question. Today the public sector has much less money for education, roads, military, health care as well as the debt society acquired riding the bubble. Now education as well as other public sector responsibilities are under scrutiny and decisions are being weighed based on a complex calculus of money available and lobbying for various allocations.

    The private sector, including citizens are also finding their pocket books squeezed and thus question their own allocation of scarce resources now that there are shifting public sector allocations. What is also uncomfortable is that all sectors, public and private are questioning the value of the current HEI system, particularly PreK-16 and taking a closer look at the value proposition. As has been pointed out by several others, this might mean real restructuring of the public universities to change the value proposition. As with any business or organization, there is no guarantee that all HEI’s will survive and those that do may be substantively different. For the HEI’s the effort has been to try to maintain the current economic model when times have and are changing and therein lies the rub. The HEI’s will have to change their model of what they are delivering, how and at what price. The HEI’s can not continue to hold forth that the HEI’s set the rules and the mode and that such are inviolate. There are already models which challenge the HEI’s and that is what is, in part, creating the discomfort. As one futurist said, you can be right or get the cheese.

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