Opinion

The conservative reform of academia is underway as coronavirus necessitates cuts

A conservative-led reform of higher-education is long overdue. One of the biggest flaws of modern conservative movements was letting universities turn into hubs of radicalism.

Sumantra Maitra Nottingham, UK
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After fixing conditions for a bailout that was inevitable after the COVID crisis, the British government has cracked down on universities. In a bailout policy brief, the UK Department of Education has fixed conditions which will be instrumental for a University to receive a bailout.

The bailout conditions include mergers, closing unviable campuses, end courses which are low value with limited job prospects, Vice-Chancellor/faculty pay cuts, bureaucratic restructuring, and defunding student unions with "niche activism." This follows a recent analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which predicted a gigantic financial black hole for the bloated British higher-ed, ranging from £3 billion to £19 billion.

British Universities and higher-ed reform has been a core issue for conservatives. The stifling and ideologically tilted campuses, as well as bloated bureaucracy, were targets even during the election campaigning. Gavin Williamson, the British education secretary had been vocal about free speech—or the lack thereof—on campuses. Williamson was not shy about urge for heavy-handed government restructuring, as a mandate won after the elections.

The new policy brief highlights those conditions and provides a model for similar conservative-led academic restructuring in the greater Anglosphere. The brief starts with a declaration that "not all providers will be prevented from exiting the market," a euphemism that means some universities will be going out of business, and the government will not stop it.

The higher-education sector turned into a gigantic market, and conservatives are now making it clear that the laws of demand and supply will decide the survival of these institutions. Furthermore, all financial support will be in the form of "repayable loans," and only on the conditionality that educational institutions follow the "legal duties to secure freedom of speech under section 43 Education (No.2) Act 1986."

The restructuring guideline will, however, pay stringent attention to a few conditions. Every tax-payer funded research inquiry undertaken by the university must be channelled towards excellence, and with a  direct and demonstrable value towards the national economy. Wishy-washy ridiculous ideological garbage will be discarded in favour of more trade and apprenticeships. Most importantly, massive cuts are desired for any university to claim bailouts, including a heavy restructuring of bureaucracy, cuts to Vice Chancellor’s pay, and merger of assets and unviable departments and campuses.

These are good guidelines, and a good start to what could be long-term changes in higher-ed and academia. These are also qualitatively similar to research on higher-ed reforms. The National Association of Scholars previously argued for similar guidelines to be implemented for any bailouts.

The paper argued that there should be no bailout for wealthy universities with massive endowments, as well as for administrators. In the last twenty years, for example in the UK, faculty grew at a rate of 10 percent whereas admin grew at a whopping rate of 221 percent. The paper also argued that there shouldn’t be any bailouts unless free speech and due process are enabled on campuses, as well as intellectual diversity and religious freedom guaranteed.

Finally, the paper argued that for every university getting a public bailout, there should be a focus on academia which enhances the American national interest. Similarly, in a policy brief, Jenna Robinson and I argued that not only should rich colleges not get bailouts, but there should be a major focus on cost-cutting of bureaucracy, cutting of athletics in favour of academic departments, and merger of assets.

In Australia, for example, the conservative government has decided that humanities courses fees will double compared to hard sciences, in part to deter students from taking massive loans and studying subjects which will not be good for their future job prospects, as well as enhancing Australian research and future economic potential to create a strong home-grown science and tech educated workforce.

A conservative-led reform of higher-education is long overdue. One of the biggest flaws of modern conservative movements was letting universities turn into hubs of radicalism. Conservatives, as the saying goes, are good at winning elections, but losing everything else. However, one can hope that this is the start of a major change not just in the UK, but in the greater Anglosphere.

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