These days I’m a part-time member of staff in higher education. After spending the bulk of my career as a higher education professional and variously working as a teacher, researcher, learning developer, web designer, careers worker and then ultimately finding my way into something like an academic career, I have to admit that I have somewhat lost faith with the sector. Through a mix of me turning my back on the sector and a much bigger amount of it not seeing much value in what I do, I suspect that I will never return to full time work in higher education.
Obviously there are personal reasons for my career choices which I should probably talk about more on this blog in the future. But, there are also some very real political and structural issues. Increasingly I’ve felt that higher education is in the grip of metric-obsessed New Public Management. By this I mean that I have seen a drift to running universities as businesses and an increasing loss of purpose. The obsession with REF and TEF are good examples of this. The genuine and valuable aims of doing good research and teaching well have been turned into mechanistic performance against questionable metrics.
For those working in higher education this kind of culture has a danger of hollowing out what you are trying to do and replacing it with the question of how can you perform against the metrics. Stress soars, competition is vicious and solidarity and co-operation suffer. Ultimately everyone loses. Research becomes more myopic, teaching less inspirational and empowering, the university turns in on itself ignoring the outside world and we all run around in a zero sum game of point scoring.
It will probably be too late for me, but there is a need for the sector to change. I believe that the UCU as the trade union in the sector will be a key instrument for any change that takes place. It is only when the workers in the sector come together and demand a better way to organise our lives and work that we have a chance of seeing any change.
This is why I’m voting for Jo Grady for the General Secretary of the UCU. I believe that she understands the challenges that the sector is going through and represents a breath of fresh air for the union. If you are a UCU member I’d encourage you to also consider voting for her.
Watch her election promo film to understand more about where she is coming from.