The UCU is enthralled in battles across at the moment. This is shown by the situation of deep crisis in Goldsmiths. The History and English departments both stand to be completely gutted. This is a crisis of capitalism.
Karl Marx once said that “the education of all children, from the moment that they can get along without a mother’s care, shall be in state institutions.” What happens when these state institutions are bartered off to private companies and their executives, to banks and their brokers, or to stock markets and their shareholders?
One of the many roots of the marketisation of British universities sprouted out in September 1998 when the government of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair brought in the first tuition fees for UK residents seeking higher education. It was without surprise that the man who removed Clause IV (the socialist aspiration) from the Labour Party constitution and a man who was demonstrably influenced by Margaret Thatcher, would plunge the first dagger into the body of British university education.
In the twenty-three years that have passed since this legislative change, tuition fees have increased by eight-hundred-and-twenty-five per cent.
Although not alone, Goldsmiths University is suffering its own crisis of marketisation.
A major restructuring scheme was made in a backroom deal with banking behemoths Lloyds and NatWest and outsourced to multinational consultancy firm KPMG. Within this, a series of massive loans were afforded in exchange for the stipulation that mass redundancies and the axing of courses would take place. Along with this, the main university building was to be placed as collateral if repayment could not be made.
The outsourcing of university administrative and economic ties to a company infamous for helping the ultra-rich dodge taxes, contractually bound the university to a loan agreement which would give the universities governance structures little say in their enforcement.
Former Student Union President Lauren Corelli. stated in a tweet that she asked KPMG consultants whether the management decision-making, past, present and future was being looked into as part of the ‘holistic evaluation’ of finances heralded by senior management, but was told it was not.
Earlier in October of this year, a legally binding consultation process began when Senior Management announced its planned redundancies, placing academic and administrative staff amongst the History and English departments in the firing line. The Goldsmiths UCU was given a thirty-day window to formulate a response in which its members could challenge the ultimatum.
In the history department alone, this directly places the academic futures of approximately 270 students in undergraduate and postgraduate positions, including some ten international students at risk. Justice for Workers, a representative body for cleaners and other workers in precarious roles on campus tweeted out earlier in the week their dismay, questioning if the loss of fifty-two staff would offset the cost of further reputational damage, months of industrial action and the dissatisfaction of students.
But why should we expect senior management to have thought hard about the impact this would have? They themselves were paid £958,000 in the financial year 2019/20. This amount almost rivals that of the total wages of academic, administrative and essential staff on campus. University Warden Frances Corner is on a salary that rivals that of the Prime Minister.
Senior management’s response or lack thereof is drawing many comparisons to their inaction during student protests last year. The Goldsmiths Rent Strike which faced silence and utter contempt from Corner’s team, were told on the occasions they could be bothered to formulate a response that there was simply no money to repair broken utilities, oust rats and black mould..
As negotiations are still underway, it is uncertain at present what outcome may occur. But no matter how hard Frances Corner digs her kitten heels into the dirt, her efforts to silence staff and students will not go unchallenged. Already there has been a mass call to action from countless university affiliated groups, societies and unions.
An open letter as part of the #SaveGoldsmiths campaign has garnered over 3,100 signatures at the time of writing this article.
In a letter of solidarity, the National Union of Journalists praised the founding of a History and Journalism course several years earlier. Goldsmiths is one of only seven universities in the U.K. to offer this joint honours and this degree could be axed as academic staff from both the Creative Writing English and History departments face the chop.
On campus protests have been organised and student action days continue to take place every Friday outside the Richard Hoggart building. Solidarity between students and staff will be the defining factor in the campaign to save the university. A battle must be waged, not just in Goldsmiths but against the whole system of education marketisation.