In the UK today, students and faculty protest extreme cuts to funding for university teaching, with targeted exemptions (STEM subjects). Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats has predictably been unable to prevent the Conservative government's wholehearted adoption of the recommendations in the recent Browne Report.
You've seen it before--in Canada every year the CFS has rallies around the country protesting tuition fees; in California students stages protests and sit-ins in response to massive funding cuts; now in the UK, students and faculty are rallying in reaction to the policy bomb dropped by Cameron's government.
But the cuts happen anyway--in California, around the U.S., in England and soon enough, Canada as well (this depends on the situation with transfer payments; technically university operating budgets are a matter of provincial jurisdiction, and tuition is set at the institutional level).
At this stage, I'm not interested in launching into a diatribe about the uselessness of activism--because I don't really buy that argument. Activism of the kind I'm describing has had positive results in the past.
What I want to know is how we can engage politically in ways that prevent these kinds of "solutions"--massive cuts, for example, and related retooling of university governance--from being either required or imposed. Because the situation we're in now with university funding is one that's evolved over a period of about 40 years or more. Surely during that time, students and faculty could have been aware of changes happening? Or did we simply not realise until it was too late?
And then there's the economy--the rise and fall, boom and bust, starting with severe recessions in the 1970s and continuing through to the most recent "downturn" beginning in 2008. Why are universities (indeed, governments and banks) incapable of weathering these economic storms? Why is it that each time the axe falls, education--in spite of its apparent relation to economic prosperity--seems to be one of the first areas up for the chop?
Even after spending a fair bit of time with these problems over the last five years or so, I feel bound up as if by a web when confronted by these kinds of policy quandaries, which are central to the governance of universities and which have such real effects on people's everyday lives. Today's protests in the UK remind me of just how far we have to go yet before the answers are in sight.