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Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Chris McGovern: Academic freedom about to be crucified by another mad ministerial idea

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It looks as though universities will soon have to sacrifice much of their academic freedom in order to remain solvent. The Higher Education and Research Bill  requires them to subscribe to a so-called ‘teaching excellence framework’ (TEF) in order to qualify for government funding. The Bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords.

At first sight the TEF looks reasonable enough. It places student satisfaction at the heart of a new ranking system for university performance. Currently, universities are ranked according to their research output. The new system, however, will be more like a swimming gala or a merit awards ceremony at a primary school assembly. Gold, silver and bronze medal status will be awarded, in part, on how students respond to their ‘uni’ experience.

Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, is the Bill’s enthusiastic promoter. And, to be fair, what’s not to like about allowing the customers, the punters, to have their say? It is a common enough practice in many of the places that students frequent – from coffee bars to burger bars to wine bars. Give ex-Etonian and Balliol boy Jo his due, he has finger on the pulse of student life if not quite as much as his smart Guardian social affairs journalist spouse. No flies on Jo, then, when it comes to being a ‘right on’ crusader for student rights!

What I suspect, however, is that he has not fully understood how his reform will work out on campus. The remainder of the narrative is likely to run on lines such as these:

Student Activists: If you want to keep your government funding you have to give us satisfaction. Right? Know what we mean?

University Authority: Of course! You are the customer and we are here to serve your needs. What can we do to win your support?

Student Activists: Well, for a start, you can get rid of that Cecil statue and those other monuments to white colonial oppression. And while you are at it, we don’t need no Plato, Descartes and Kant on our philosophy course. Our satisfaction depends on decolonising this uni. Right!

University Authority: Serviemus…we are here to serve.

So, the new Bill represents good news for all of those students and university teachers who wish to re-write the canon of ideas, intellectual debate and academic knowledge that underpin the very concept of a university. This modern student mindset has, already, seen Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell subjected to bans after being labelled ‘transphobic’ by snowflake zealots.

The Bill will strengthen the snowflake generation’s demand for  ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ in order to protect themselves from listening to views and opinions with which they may disagree or that may upset them. Mostly recently, as noted by The Conservative Woman, theology students at Glasgow University were invited to leave a lecture on Christ if they felt that the crucifixion would be too upsetting for them.

Who pays the piper, calls the tune! Making university funding dependent on student satisfaction ratings will crucify academic freedom. Their lordships need to make a stand! There are plenty of other outlets for measuring student satisfaction.

(Image: Nikolay Georgiev)

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovernhttp://www.cre.org.uk
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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