Posts Tagged ‘ PhD ’

Career suicide

I wrote the below email today to the Principal of Queen Mary, after a horribly patronising email was sent around about impending cuts. It probably wasn’t a very good idea, but it was one of those situations when i was absolutely fuming and couldn’t stop myself.

Have a read – I might put it on the gravestone that I’ve ordered…

Dear Ms A**** – FAO Prof Gaskell,

Many thanks for this email. I am especially grateful for this email as it confirms a
number of suspicions held by myself, but I suspect also widely held among us staff,
postgraduate students, and the undergraduate students whom we teach and support.

First, that the strategy of UUK and its affiliates (including QMUL) is chiefly to
patronise and belittle the intellect of our workforce and students, claiming that we do
not understand our position in relation to the economic conditions that we currently
face. This approach is, presumably, in the vague hope that we might just be persuaded
that HE (and education more broadly) is about to hit free-fall as a result of the chums
and business partners of university leaders.

Second, that university senior managers have swallwed wholesale the vacuous “we are all
in this together” rhetoric that has dribbled wetly from policy-makers’ mouths since the
first days of the current government. It is a sad day when an entire industry based on
rigorous thought and research for the furtherance of society’s wellbeing becomes subsumed
within the whimsical fantasies of this peculiar brand of right-wing ideology. Many of us
HE staff are also complicit in this but many more continue to expose and confront it as
it is – an ideological construct opportunistically using recession as a means of
strengthening itself and its privileged supporters.

Third, that management of universities around the UK actually think that they can get
away with their unquestioning compliance with these draconian cuts without some sort of
active opposition from those whose livelihoods depend on this broken education system we
inhabit. On the contrary, do not expect that the job of Principal will be an easy one in
the coming months. Sadly, for university leaders, you are presiding over a workforce and
student body that – despite the best efforts of policy makers and managers alike – has
developed critical and creative intellect sufficient to develop new structures; new forms
of learning and sharing that could quite easily be undertaken in a self-managed way
beyond the confines of the education factory we now find ourselves in. In many places, in
the cracks between the pavement, this is already taking place.

Fourth, that managers believe this crisis of HE has somehow happened in a space out of
the reach of university leaders. UUK and senior management at universities around the UK
have, for years, been complicit in the war waged against the latent possibilities of an
education system based on rigorous intellectual and practical development, accessibility,
critical pedagogy and democratic practice. This cannot have come as a surprise to
so-called leaders who have followed sheepishly the whims of each government as it has
proactively built on the commodification of the education system in progressive steps.
Had university leaders wanted to confront the clear dangers of this process, they were in
a perfect position to do so, but instead they remained silent, safe in the knowledge that
their compliance would retain for them a lofty and comfortable seat among the elite
minority which cannibalistically feeds off the sweat of the rest of us.

Fifth, that QMUL management would like us to believe that Queen Mary staff and students
need only worry about the financial health of our own college. Sadly, as much as we would
like to think that our own wellbeing is the only thing that matters (cf. “there is no
such thing as society,” as our current Prime Minister’s idol once said), this parochial
misrepresentation of the interconnectedness of the education system – especially HE – is
disingenuous at best. We are not just facing tough times here in Mile End, but
everywhere, and our wellbeing is intimately entwined in the wellbeing of all other
education institutions across the UK and beyond. Denial of this fact is tantamount to
sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting “LALALALALA” in the hope that what you
ignore will go away. If only it were that simple.

Please do not take this as a personal attack, Prof Gaskell. On the contrary, the
landscape that universities inhabit is one that is reproduced at a much bigger scale and
in a much deeper sense than that which we are experiencing in HE. The Browne report is
small fry in comparison with the bigger picture across the UK and elsewhere, and, as I
have said, is just the most recent manifestation of a much longer process stretching back
many years that university leaders failed (or refused) to address. However, the active
complicity of universities in this market-led and state-approved eating-away of education
as an a priori good is something that cannot be ignored, not even when the very poorest
students are thrown a few crumbs from the table as a stunt to appease the moral dilemmas
of wavering observers.

One can only hope that the mess that will be caused by these cuts will help us rebuild a
truly liberatory system of education from the rubble of the old.

Kind regards,

Quoting Kate A***:

Dear Students, 

You will no doubt have been aware of the announcement last week of the
outcomes of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, following
the release the previous week of the Browne Review of Higher Education
Spending and Student Finance. The latter was produced independently of
government but was clearly informed by an understanding of the economic
environment and the government’s headline spending plans.  The
government is reserving judgement on whether to implement all of
Browne’s recommendations, and on what time scale.  Nevertheless, we can
be clear that a number of changes will take place:

* The overall resource budget for higher education, excluding
research funding, will reduce by 40% from £7.1 billion to £4.2
billion by 2014-15.

* As it is now, a university education will be free to students at
the point of delivery.  The fee-based payment method will be
supported by loans.  Where a student applies for a loan to cover
the cost of fees, the government will pay their university the
fees on their behalf. The idea of a graduate tax has been rejected
by the Government.

* Fees will increase.  It is estimated that an average fee of £7000
pa would be required (in the absence of cost savings) to replace
the reduction in teaching grant from the Higher Education Council
for England (HEFCE).  Browne proposed that there should be no cap
on fee levels, but that universities should be charged an
increasing levy the higher the level of fees above £6000 pa.       Comments late
last week from David Willetts, the Minister for
Universities and Science, indicated however that the government is
undecided on whether or how to enact these changes.

* The current zero rate of interest paid by graduates will be
replaced by a rate reflecting the government’s cost of borrowing,
thereby substantially reducing the cost to government of the loans
scheme. Students who fail to graduate will not be exempt from

* The threshold for graduate earnings at which repayment will begin
will rise from £15,000 to £21,000 and will be linked to average
earnings; the maximum repayment period is to be increased from 25
to 30 years.  Payments of 9% of income over £21,000 pa will be
collected through the tax system.

* Part-time students devoting at least a third of their time to
study will be entitled to the same loans as full-time students to
cover the cost of their fees.

* The arrangements for maintenance grants and loans have become
slightly more generous.

These are huge changes for the funding of teaching in higher  education institutions in
England and their implications require  careful examination. This has been in progress
for some time at  Queen Mary (in anticipation of the Browne proposals and the funding
reductions), but more detailed modelling is required.  The  £4.6million government
allocation to universities for research will  be maintained in cash terms over the next
four years.  Whilst in  real-terms this represents a cut of approximately 9% over this
period, it is better news than was feared and suggests that  arguments put forward from
Queen Mary and elsewhere for the  fundamental economic importance of its research have
been heard by  government and at least partially understood.  The “dual support”  system
will be maintained, whereby government funding for research  is channelled partly
through HEFCE and partly through the Research  Councils.  Both the mechanism and the
magnitude of research support  are important to Queen Mary be
cause of our commitment to research-led teaching and our education of
postgraduate research students.

The reductions in government spending create enormous challenges for
all universities in England.  As we face them at Queen Mary, however,
we should recall our particular advantages.  We enter this period in
sound financial health, the result of recent successes and careful
husbandry of resources.  To complement a talented and dedicated staff,
we have teaching and research accommodation of a generally high
quality, including some striking new, or newly refurbished, buildings.
Our increasingly elevated position in national and international
rankings means that we are an attractive destination for talented
students from the UK and abroad.  And finally, we have in our recently
published Strategic Plan a clearly articulated set of core values and
ambitions, providing a clear direction of travel in difficult times.

I have every confidence that the coming months and years will see Queen
Mary continue to develop its twin missions of knowledge creation and
knowledge dissemination, and build upon its fundamental commitment to
the provision of the highest possible quality of education, across a
broad academic range, to those students most able to benefit,
regardless of their background.

Simon J Gaskell
25 October 2010


Hello there…

Welcome to my as-yet-sparsely-populated blog. I’m a geographer currently residing in sunny Bethnal Green, East London. I recently completed my PhD entitled Organising Anarchy: Spatial Strategy, Prefiguration and the Politics of Everyday Life at Queen Mary, University of London. Please don’t expect me to explain it, as I wouldn’t want to disappoint you so early on.

Elsewhere in life I am a keen fixed-gear cyclist, rock climber, hill walker, bonsai killer grower and a hopelessly devoted partner to H., my long-suffering girlfriend. Without a doubt, all of these will feature from time to time.

I don’t yet know what will become of this little project, but i have a few things in mind:

  • Illuminating and discussing the role played by geography, space and place in the way this funny old world works.
  • Pondering the joys and pains in the everyday experiences of being a young, inexperienced and often un(der)employed academic in these times of turbulence.
  • Writing a little about my pet topic – anarchism – and the ways in which I feel it has big things to say about the aforementioned funny old world, how it works, and occasionally how I feel it should work. Related to this, I would like to talk specifically about how anarchist approaches to political thought, action and critique can enrich our everyday lives and the way we (geographers, bloggers, humans, fauna…) relate to and live alongside one another.
  • Sharing a few tidbits from my academic research, which focuses chiefly on – you guessed it – anarchist thought and action, but also a whole load of other juicy stuff.
  • Hopefully also peppering this rather dry political stuff with some little rays of humour and intrigue along the way. Over the years, those of us with a leftward inclination have gained an awful (albeit not entirely undeserved) reputation for being dull, humourless and a bit whiney. I’ll do my best to convince you otherwise.

Just like the rich tapestry of life, I suspect that this blog will meander, stopping here and there, bifurcating at points and converging at others; becoming a rather labyrinthine mish-mash of intrigue, stupidity and utopia. Failing that, I hope that it will at least be modestly entertaining in parts…