open universities

Over at HASTAC, there’s an interesting conversation going on about Openness in Academia. I am especially enjoying the ways different definitions of openness are being connected and examined: accessibility not just to technology but also to the conceptual and political visions of what the academy means; the role of online identities to scholars and other intellectuals and the ways privacy and privatization both do and do not connect; questions about teaching and the open classroom versus the matter of whether education is something that its ‘consumers’ should pay for. I recommend checking it out.

This conversation strikes me as especially important right now because I’ve been glued to the news of the drastic cuts in public funding for higher education and just about everything else in the UK. If higher education had not been public, if it had been viewed as something that one’s parents have to pay for (as it is the the US), I can’t imagine how I could have got in to the position I’m in today. I attended university in Scotland when fees had just been introduced, but I wasn’t eligible to pay them, and thanks to the encouragement of my family I got to more or less inherit the way of thinking about university education as something to which I had a right regardless of my economic status. I was already lucky to be able to think that way, to see education as a way to expand what my world could include rather that as something I would invest in and consume in order to make me a more successful participant in a narrowly-defined world of work. The current UK government is tearing down the last remnants of that sense of openness, sending out the message that intellectual openness is a luxury only for the rich and impractical, and it’s breaking my heart.

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2 thoughts on “open universities

  1. Sue

    Hello Alexis,

    The media reports (and student protests) are a little one-sided. The Open Learning Fund has been in place since 2003 or so, and provides full funding for undergraduates earning less than £16000 pa, and partial funding up to an income of about £32K, pa. It’s still thus possible to earn a degree with full funding from the Government under this scheme, and it’s open to anyone. In other cases a degree with the Open University costs about £10K, an Honours degreee about £11K, much cheaper than the figures quoted in the UK press. The picture is not as bleak as it seems, student loans need not be repaid by many students in lower income jobs, and anyone may apply for full funding for a degree under the OLF.

    Kind regards

  2. Alexis Lothian Post author

    Hi Sue,

    I have been following the UK HE changes pretty closely — this post was a while back when the Browne report was first published. I know there is substantial help available for lower income students, but I am still very much against the loans model for a lot of the reasons stated in this letter. Something I have learned a good deal about while studying at a private US institution and working with first-generation college students there is how difficult it can be for information about help available to low-income people to be disseminated; I think even the *idea* of an enormous debt you will never be able to pay off is prohibitive to many people. It seems to me that a graduate tax would do a lot of the same work as the loan system while making education seem much less like something only for the privileged.

    I’m hopeful that all the discussion and protest will lead to some ideas for alternative ways to deal with the crisis in university funding, also.