UCU Scotland: Future of higher education conference

The conference addressed the future of higher education in Scotland at a timely moment. Just prior to the close of the Scottish government consultation, the conference considered the effects of mass participation, globalisation, privatisation and the decrease in collegiality, as well as the impact on Scotland of English tuition fees. The conference discussed the issues that threaten the very core of Scottish intellect and democracy and the future for higher education.

Tuesday 22 February 2011
Edinburgh

An important conference organised jointly by the UCU Scotland and the EIS University Lecturers' Association was well received by delegates and with many organisations attending and appreciating its content.

Keynote speaker Professor Stefan Collini, applied the same critical forensic analysis to Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell's consultation on Scottish HE as he has deployed in the London Review of Books in   major critique of the Browne Review. For all its many failings, he suggested, it was 'cheering ... for an Englishman', to come, in an official discussion of university funding, upon a passage that 'declares as roundly as the consultation does ... [that] " the main burden should lie with the state".' Summing up the spirit of the conference, Collini concluded by wishing 'Scottish colleagues every success in translating that admirable sentiment into a workable system that shows up the narrow-minded philistinism of the "English solution" for what it is.'

Jens Vraa Jensen of Education International responded, again to bring international inspiration to our campaign, and endorsement of our conviction that our struggle against the forces of anti-Enlightenment in the Scottish university system matters well beyond our own borders..

The embrace by Scottish university senior managers of the corporate business agenda was wittily dissected by Education professor Walter Humes, who recounted how he was accused of 'group slander' by a vice principal when he made the case in Aberdeen last year (an incident that informed a subsequent Laurie Taylor column).

The danger to society of the demise of the socially critical university, posed by the threatened closure of social science courses, was analysed with great historical insight by Bridget Fowler, emeritus Sociology professor at Glasgow.

The failure of the attempt to infiltrate the unargued 'make students pay' case into the common sense of political inevitability was celebrated both at the conference and later in his Herald column by Iain Macwhirter, the well-known journalist who is Rector at Edinburgh. He praised the student campaign, having himself travelled on the overnight bus to London with some of the many thousands of Scottish students last November, who were fighting, not for themselves but for the principle of publicly funded education.

Susan Matthews of Roehampton also spoke of the student revolt and of the experience of her son, Alfie Meadows, who, radicalised by the arbitrary closure of an 'excellent' philosophy programme at Middlesex, found his head at the wrong end of a police baton during one of last year's demos. (He's doing OK.)

Conference Media

Plenary session I: The Scottish Government Green Paper in Context and Academic Responses.

  • Introductions
  • Walter Humes Education, University of Stirling,
  • Bridget Fowler Sociology, University of Glasgow
  • Susan Matthews Literary and Gender Studies, Roehampton University
  • Iain Macwhirter Herald Political Commentator, Rector of Edinburgh University
  • Short question and answer session

Plenary session II

  • Stefan Collini Intellectual History, University of Cambridge
  • Jens Vraa Jensen Education International
  • Question and answer session

Plenary Session III

  • Open discussion
  • Summations

The conference finished with a social event allowing for discussion of the day's proceedings

Last updated: 14 April 2015