Steven Gradidge. Hi :)

Sussex Continues To Pay The Price On A More Profitable Education

Posted on: November 16, 2011

Michael Farthing, the chairman of a group of research universities has sent a warning to the Government over its proposed ideas of putting a premium on a university degree education in the UK. He claims students are being labelled as mere “consumers” able to buy themselves an education under the new plans of tuition fees.

The report can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15738867

His words hit a rather salient note as he is vice-chancellor of The University of Sussex, the university where I studied. While studying their, he was used as the poster child for all on-campus crusades and marches against the strikes and spending cuts. His salary was condemned. His decisions questioned. His integrity mocked. Effigies of Mr. Farthing were also burned.

I have personally spoken to Michael Farthing a number of times during the state-funded management and leadership course I got selected to be apart of. He spoke with conviction yet with compassion for the cuts in budget. This could of course have been merely a bold bravado to appear empathetic but I could sense that he believed in the nurturing of students and education. The management and leadership course that set back the university over £30,000 if I remember rightly (approximately equivalent to the tuition fees of a graduate under the proposed plans).

In the report he is quoted:

 “We need to talk about the student experience less in terms of transactions and more in terms of relationships. Universities are communities where people come together to create and share knowledge.

I understand the sentiment behind the role of the relationship during a university education but because the proposed £9,000 limit was such an extravagant increase, university institutions began to look at student (even more so) as cash cows. Not students. Not undergraduates. Not people.

Certainly culture is a currency, but nothing beats the real thing! He should know more than anyone that the sovereign coin holds extensive weight in adding to student experience (At times students were occupying whole buildings while classrooms were taking place in protest against the spending cuts). With money come possibilities. Possibilities are followed by opportunities.

The point of the increased tuition fees goes well beyond the winnowing of ‘suitable’ applicants. It’s about creating university mills that knock out idealised graduates. Graduates that could £30,000 worth of tuition fees. Graduates that had substantial financial support from parents. Graduates who could afford to employ a private tutor. Graduates who didn’t need to work alongside their studies. Pre-requisites for most if not all wannabe students under the new plans.

Sussex prides itself on diversity, creativity and exhibitionism. Other universities less so. The University of Sussex is at risk of losing its more than anyone.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Sussex. Made many friends and learnt many things. What was once a very relaxed and care-free campus environment quickly revolted into a hot pot of political strikes, picket lines and pending doom (dissertation aside of course!). Fortunately I have now graduated, got a great job and work with lovely people but I fear that the campus I once enjoyed is being lost to the transactional nature of a university education.

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