UCU contributed to the Leeds university ‘Students Not Suspects Tour’ debate in the Conference Auditorium on 1 March. Lesley McGorrigan, UCU NEC member and local Campaigns Officer addressed the meeting alongside Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo prisoner, detained for two years without charge and Rahmaan Mohammadi, school student questioned for campaigning for Palestinian rights.
The meeting discussed the ramifications of the ‘War on Terror’ and its use in legitimising and further propelling the pro-war agenda by ‘othering’ and scapegoating Muslims at home and abroad. The meeting heard some of the of victims’ tragic experiences of Islamophobia alongside ramifications of the ‘Prevent’ duty in undermining academic freedom and the relationship of trust between staff and students.
Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 includes a duty for public bodies including colleges and universities to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. In schools, colleges and some Universities this has led to a new culture of stifling debate and democratic expression for one section of our society in particular, Muslims. For example:
- A conference on Islamophobia at Birkbeck College, University of London was shut down.
- A Muslim student on a counter terrorism MSc course at Staffordshire University was referred to Prevent on the grounds that he was reading a book on terrorism studies in the university library. He was questioned about his attitude towards homosexuality, ISIS and Al Qaeda.
- A 14 year old pupil used the term ‘ecoterrorism’ in a class discussion as an example of environmental activism and he was taken out of class and questioned about his views on terrorism and ISIS.
- A 10 year old child misspelled terraced and wrote that he lived in a ‘terrorist house’; his parents were called in for questioning.
These are just a few examples in which Prevent has taken action and found no threat of terrorism. All that resulted was that the pupils and students referred felt nervous and frightened about what they can and cannot say or do. There was consensus at the Leeds meeting on the need for student and staff unions to unite in challenging this McCarthy style legislation.
University of Leeds UCU agree with the stated objectives of the Green Paper: to provide the highest quality of education for our students, empowering them in the process, and ensure that a university education can be enjoyed by everyone who is able to benefit from it. We do not agree however that the TEF is a means of achieving these objectives. Nowhere in the documentation is ‘excellence’ defined, and this plainly undermines the arguments made about achieving it. The TEF will add another layer of bureaucracy onto an already over‐burdened profession, making excellent teaching harder to achieve. We do not believe that the metrics being proposed represent adequate proxies for teaching excellence. It is also self-evident that the attempt to define sector‐wide metrics could not adequately recognise the differences between disciplines in pedagogic, delivery or assessment terms. The Green Paper argues that information about key elements of the educational experience either does not exist or is not widely available to applicants, and therefore cannot assist students in making informed decisions about their choice of university. We do not recognise this as based in fact. There will be an increased administrative burden while universities accommodate the new requirements and change their procedures. Experience of the REF suggests that where there is reputational and financial advantage to be gained, universities will expend considerable effort to ensure that they obtain the ‘best’ results, and this will inevitably have a direct negative impact on academics, who will be at the front‐line in delivering them. One fear, consequently, is that TEF might have the paradoxical effect of making excellent teaching harder to achieve because of the increased bureaucratic burden it will place on teachers. We support the ambition to increase the participation of all disadvantaged groups in HE. We are not convinced this can be achieved by a TEF as described. The Green Paper contains few concrete proposals about how to improve access to HE for students currently marginalised by the system. The Green Paper notes, correctly, that matters of ‘prior educational attainment’ cannot explain disparities in achievement between some BME groups and white students, although no alternative explanations are offered. This presents an inadequate frame for consultation. There is a body of expertise and good practice and a network of relationships in some of the existing bodies that should not be jettisoned lightly. Also, as the Green Paper argues (para 13), some bodies have … Continue reading →
Join us for a discussion about the government’s recent Green Paper on Higher Education, including the effects of opening up universities to private providers, new forms of measurement for ‘teaching excellence’ as well as research, raising fees, deregulation, attacks on local statutes and academic freedom … and OUR RESPONSE TO IT. Monday 11 January, 5pm–6.30pm Workshop Theatre Studio 1, University of Leeds Speakers: Liz Lawrence, National President of UCU, on the implications of a rapid growth in the number of private for-profit providers of higher education Professor Paul Kleiman, senior consultant (Higher Education) at Ciel Associates, on the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) The meeting is open to all staff and students of all local HE institutions. Link to the government consultation paper and questions: gov.uk/government/consultations/higher-education-teaching-excellence-social-mobility-and-student-choice Update: you may be interested in the powerpoint presentation given by UCU national president Liz Lawrence at that meeting: The Green Paper on HE and Privatisation … Continue reading →
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