People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 43

October 24, 2010


Crisis of Higher Education in US and UK


Vijender Sharma


THE UPA-2 government is out to change the entire framework of higher education system in the country with tremendous haste, without required consultation and debate, without any regard to opposition of academia and states. With its ever growing strategic relationship with the USA in several fields, this government is under the pressure of the US and of other developed countries including the UK. These countries are looking for alternative destinations for export of their higher education and for business so that their crisis-ridden higher education systems could be bailed out. The prime minister and HRD minister are already engaged in high level talks with their counterparts in the US and UK in this regard.




The union minister for human resource development, Kapil Sibal, met the US under secretary of state for political affairs, William Burns, on October 15, 2009 in New Delhi. India and the US are proposing to set up an India-US Education Council which will include representatives of industry and education. The council will coordinate the moving forward of bilateral relations in education between the two countries.


In November 2009, India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, saw enormous opportunities for the university systems of India and the US to work together and launched an Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative between the US and Indian universities.


Kapil Sibal met the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, on June 2, 2010 in Washington and discussed a wide range of issues related to bilateral cooperation in the field of education. Welcoming the Singh-Obama knowledge initiative and India-US Education Council, Sibal mentioned about the Innovation Universities that are being set up in India and said, "The two nations could partner in setting up some of these Innovation Universities, one of which could be announced during the proposed visit of President Obama to India later this year." They also discussed the interest shown by US universities in establishing institutions in India.


Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, wrote in The Times of India on June 4, 2010 that a delegation from India's government had arrived in Washington in that week for the first-ever strategic dialogue between India and the United States. The new Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative will build partnerships between Indian and American universities. And India is now poised to undertake a significant educational reform: allowing foreign universities to open campuses in India.


The Bureau of South and Central Asia Affairs, US State Department, hosted a higher education roundtable on September 16, 2010 to identify successful and sustainable models for collaboration and partnerships in all types of higher educational institutions in India including research institutions, professional schools, undergraduate liberal arts schools and community colleges.


In July 2010, UK prime minister, David Cameron, who visited India along with a big trade delegation, said: "Education is not just vital for national success; it is one of the best growth businesses of the 21st century. I want us in Britain and India to pool some of our advantages for our mutual benefit."


Through the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) collaboration, the two nations will join hands to set up new institutes, increase skills development programmes, hold leadership programmes and work on quality assurance of courses offered to students. The UK has formally expressed interest in developing Innovation Universities and other institutions.


UK higher education and science minister, David Willetts, who accompanied Cameron, said: "Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Essex, Birmingham, Newcastle, Exeter and the Open University are eager to forge links during the design and eventual creation of the new innovation universities." He would be visiting India again in November 2010, accompanied by leading British vice chancellors, to establish a framework for collaboration between British institutions and the innovation universities.




These high level talks are taking place in the backdrop of an unprecedented crisis in higher education that these two countries are facing. Huge budget cuts, skyrocketing fees and other charges, closure of departments and courses, and large scale retrenchment of teachers and workers have led to students, teachers, workers, parents and people at large to organise massive protest actions across the two countries and mobilise support for their forthcoming actions.


After the March 4, 2010 protest demonstrations across the United States, the second national day of action to defend public education was observed on October 7 with militant programmes, and now they are preparing for their January 2011 actions. In United Kingdom, after May 5 --- the day of action and strike --- the National Union of Students (NUS) and University and College Union of Teachers (UCU) have given a clarion call to make history on November 10. There would be a national demonstration on the day in the streets of central London to fight against the looming, savage education cuts, demanding “Fund Our Future: Stop Education Cuts.”




In the United States, the higher education system is in a deep crisis since the last recession and meltdown. The universities and colleges across the country are facing tremendous problems due to large scale budgetary cuts. According to the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 43 states have implemented cuts to public colleges and universities and/or made large increases in college tuition fees to make up for insufficient state funding. States made these cuts because revenues from income taxes, sales taxes and other revenue sources, used to pay for these services, have declined due to the recession.


Due to budget cuts by the American states, tuition fee hikes for 2010-11 range from 8 per cent to 23 per cent in Alabama, depending on the institution. In Arizona’s three public universities this hike is between 9 to 20 per cent along with a salary cut by 2.75 per cent. The University of California increased the tuition fees by 32 per cent and reduced the enrolment by 2,300 students; the California State University system cut the enrolment by 40,000 students. Colorado funding for higher education was reduced by 62 million dollars from 2010 onward. Florida’s 11 public universities raised tuition fees by 15 per cent for the academic year 2010-11. This tuition hike, combined with a similar increase in 2009-10, results in a total two-year increase of 32 per cent.


Georgia cut state funding for public higher education for 2011 by 151 million dollars, or 7 per cent. As a result, undergraduate tuition fees for the fall 2010 semester at Georgia’s four public research universities will increase by 500 dollars per semester, or 16 per cent. Michigan reduced student financial aid by 135 million dollars (over 61 per cent), including decreases of 50 per cent in competitive scholarships and 44 per cent in tuition grants. New York’s state university system increased resident undergraduate tuition by 14 per cent beginning with the spring 2009 semester. University of North Carolina has raised tuition by 750 dollars in the 2010-11. Funding for the University of Washington has been reduced by 26 per cent for the current biennium. Washington State University increased tuition by almost 30 per cent over two years. The budget for public colleges and universities in Washington has also been reduced by 26 per cent. Over the next two years, the University of Virginia will see a cut of 27 million dollars; Virginia Tech, 32 million dollars; and James Madison University, 14.5 million dollars. The state’s Community College system will lose a total of 66 million dollars.


Like many other prestigious American institutions, MIT was hard hit by the recession. Its endowment, which funds about 20 per cent of the university's annual operating budget, decreased by about 25 per cent during the crisis, falling from a pre-recession high of 10.1  billion dollars to just 7.6 billion dollars. In Harvard and Yale, the endowments which reached the top values of 37 billion and 23 billion dollars prior to the recession, fell by 23 and 30 per cent respectively.




Therefore, these institutions have been forced to take measures such as academic reorganisation, layoffs, furloughs (leave without pay), position eliminations, hiring fewer tenure-eligible faculty, and higher teaching workloads, larger number of students in a class, higher employee contributions to health and retirement benefits, elimination of scholarships, cut in need-based aid, administrative cuts, salary cuts and other cuts. The students have been worst hit; they faced decreased number of seats and large scale rise in fees. 


These measures angered the students, teachers and parents, and resulted in widespread unrest among them. Protests have been going on across the colleges and universities in the United States for over two years now. Tuition fee for students at the 23 California State University campuses, including San Francisco state, was increased by 30 per cent in 2009. After months of actions against the steep decline in state financing for public universities, the students occupied a building of the San Francisco State University. They locked themselves inside that building by chaining the doors from inside for about 24 hours, to protest the budget cuts and tuition fee increases across the state’s public university system. The police broke through a window to get in and arrested 26 students on December 10, 2009. On this day, students on at least three campuses, including Berkeley, took over buildings and many were arrested. They also raised the issues of layoffs, faculty furloughs and other cuts and demanded forgiveness of all student loans.


The protests in California against the budget cuts of one billion dollars to the state's university system grew into a nationwide movement. Students and teachers in many states organised demonstrations against the budget cuts and tuition fee hikes on March 4, 2010. Thousands of students, parents and faculty members protested at colleges and universities across California. In Oakland, California, police arrested 160 protesters who blocked a major interstate highway. Protesters in Davis, outside Sacramento, also tried to block an interstate highway but were prevented by the authorities using pepper spray. Protests were held in other states, too, with at least 16 people arrested at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, when protesters tried to force their way into administration offices and threw ice chunks at campus officers.


Called a “strike and national day of action to defend public education” by organisers, campus and building entrances were blocked at several places. One of the largest demonstrations in California took place on the north steps of the Capital, where more than 1,000 people used drums and bullhorns to try to get their message across.


A call was given to observe October 7, 2010 as the “National Day of Action to Defend Public Education.” At Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, several hundred people gathered on the campus's parade grounds for a jazz-inspired "funeral" for higher education. Some participants, dressed in black carried a coffin labelled "education," while others carried flags representing language programs that the university has cut to cope with shrinking state appropriations. More programme cuts and job cuts are likely, as the state’s higher education funds could be cut by as much as 35 per cent next year.


On several campuses of the University of California, which lost 637 million dollars in state appropriations last year, groups also held events to mark October 7 as the National Day of Action. At the University of California at Berkeley, demonstrators at a variety of events protested the cuts and their effects on public colleges and universities. One event, a sit-in in a library reading room, drew some 500 participants before the campus police blocked access. The demonstrators banged on desks and chanted "Whose university? Our university!" and several hundred remained in the room till late afternoon.


The militant protests that emanated from the University of California, Berkeley, have become a national affair across the United States. On this day, thousands of people, particularly college students and faculty members, marched, rallied and held panel discussions. They charged the federal government of spending trillions of dollars on the military abroad, while it was cutting public education and privatising it.


Massive protest actions were reported from the Portland State and Western Washington universities, Southern Illinois, Wayne state universities, University of Iowa, LSU, New England, Massachusetts and at the University of Albany and Brooklyn College in New York. In San Diego, students, parents, teachers and workers organised a funeral procession to the downtown to mourn the assassination of public education. Members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also participated as part of its “Higher Education is a Public Good” week, which, according to AAUP, was “a week of action to demonstrate the importance of not-for-profit higher education.”


The press release of the organising committee on its website, stated, “As public funds that once made the US the best education system in the world disappear, private investors seek to deform public education for their purposes, adjusting education to meet the market,”  The students, teachers and all the stakeholders are now preparing for further actions in January 2011.




In the United Kingdom, a similar situation is obtaining with large scale cuts, tuition fee hikes and rising protests by students and teachers. Struggling to reduce a large budget deficit, the government in recent months has announced cuts amounting to some 1.1 billion pounds sterling (1.59 billion dollars) to the UK universities. Some university leaders fear future cuts could be even more severe and undermine one of the UK's most important industries — higher education. Anger sparked protests at many places, including Middlesex. Proposals to cut more than 100 jobs at the University of Sussex in southern England led students to occupy university buildings in March 2010, and break into the vice chancellor's office. The police were called in.


Teachers at several universities, including King's College, London and Westminster University, have organised strikes in recent months to protest job cuts. According to an estimate, a few thousand job cuts have been announced so far. The University of Leeds in northern England has said it may need to eliminate as many as 400 jobs if further funding cuts are announced --- a warning that has provoked several student protests. Russell Group universities are lobbying for tuition fees to be gradually raised and then freed from state control, to allow the best universities to charge more.


The government announced cut in university funding in England by a total of 398 million pounds for 2010-11. In all, the budgets of around half of universities were cut, including 10 members of the elite Russell Group – Birmingham, Bristol, Imperial College London, King’s College, Leeds, the London School of Economics (LSE), Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Southampton.


Biggest cuts were made to the London Business School, where budgets were slashed by almost 12 per cent to 5.8 million pounds, and Reading, which saw spending cut by almost eight per cent to 50.7 million pounds. The LSE saw cuts of more than six per cent. Oxford and Cambridge universities are also hit by budget cuts.


Record numbers of students are expected to graduate with debts of more than 20,000 pounds, according to a study. The study found that almost a third of students had considered dropping out of university at some point. Almost half of them cited “financial difficulties.” There is clearly a large financial strain on students who had to reduce spend on food and are eating less healthily.


Some universities were preparing to increase the number of international students, who can be charged as much as 10 times that of British undergraduates, to bring in more money. According to Policy Exchange, an organisation interested in free market and localist solutions to public policy questions, fees should rise to a minimum of 5,000 pounds but long-term consideration should be given to removing the existing fees limit altogether. It said some vice chancellors were pushing for a rise of 20,000 pounds. A many-fold increase!


Three quarters of UK university heads who took part in a survey think public spending cuts will lead to the disappearance of some institutions. Some two-thirds of the 43 university bosses who responded, said they planned to develop an international presence. Universities charge foreign students much higher tuition fees than domestic students. Therefore, developing campuses abroad could lead to more students coming to study at their UK bases.


Leaders of the UK's most prestigious universities have warned that the government plans to cut funding will lead to a higher education "meltdown." There will be a loss of 22,584 university jobs in England alone, if the Government pushes ahead with plans for 25 per cent funding cuts.




On May 5, 2010, the day of action and strike, hundreds of UCU members and students gathered at the King's College, London, before marching to the Westminster to rally at the Church House. University College, London, Westminster and Sussex universities and London colleges also witnessed protest actions, with the strike at the King’s College, London, continuing until next day.


Actions such as sit-ins, demonstrations and strikes took place in Richmond-upon-Thames College, Croydon College, Sussex University, Bradford College, Doncaster college, Loughborough College, Birmingham Metropolitan College, Bournville College, City College Birmingham and South Birmingham College.


Universities have been told to make savings of one billion pounds, while further education must cut its budget by 340 million pounds in the next academic year. After May 5 action, the UCU prepared for further actions and mobilized opinion across colleges and universities. On June 21, 2010, students and staff at 100 UK colleges and universities protested against funding cuts in higher education. The protests included a demonstration at Parliament.


The protests were organised by a coalition of seven unions --- the UCU, NUS, Unite, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the GMB (workers’ trade union), the Education Institute of Scotland and Unison.


While the students, teachers and workers were preparing for the future course of action, they got further devastating news with the former CEO of British Petroleum, Lord Browne, releasing his report on October 12 on the review of university funding. He recommended a massive cut in direct state funding for university degrees and passed the burden onto students. He called for abolition of the existing cap of 3,290 pounds a year on tuition fees, allowing universities to charge as much as 14,000 pounds, and removal of public funding from all but "priority" subjects like medicine, science and engineering. The interest rate on student loans also will be increased. This will lead to 80 per cent cut in teaching budgets of universities in the UK. They are likely to face a cut of 3.2 billion pounds in teaching and a reduction of one billion pounds in research budgets. In anticipation of further cuts, many institutions are beginning to lay off instructors, reduce the number of classes and shut down departments.


The UCU said that cuts on this scale would leave cities and towns without a local university and our students would pay the highest public fees in the world. It has described this as the most challenging time for its students, members and for the movement, and called upon them to act together.


On a joint call by the NUS and UCU, several tens of thousands of students, teachers, parents, workers and others will take part in a national demonstration in London on November 10 to protest against funding cuts to higher education. The march will also raise concerns about higher tuition fees and the increasing privatisation of the education sector. About 2,00,000 students could not get admission in universities this year. With manifold rise in tuition fees, many more students will be left out in future.




The introduction of four bills in parliament on May 3, 2010, regarding entry and operation of foreign educational providers, mandatory assessment and accreditation, prevention and prohibition of malpractices, and establishment of a tribunal to fast-track adjudication; and circulation of draft bills on national commission for higher education and research and universities for innovation should also be seen in the light of the above scenario and pressures coming on the Indian government. The prime minister and HRD minister are already having talks with their counterparts, as mentioned above.


Through these bills, the UPA-2 government is creating a framework that would enable the implementation of its agenda of neo-liberal ‘reforms’ in higher education system and for meeting the requirements of private local and foreign educational institutions.


The new framework, with no social control over higher education institutions, with the denial of constitutional right to teachers and other employees to take recourse to high courts, with no remedial mechanism for the solution of problems of students and with mandatory accreditation, will facilitate trade in higher education in the country.


The all-powerful national commission will provide single-window clearance to foreign institutions to start their shops. The Universities for Innovation Bill will provide them an alternative route for establishing their campuses with greater power, freedom and prestige, with the removal of most of the restrictions proposed in the foreign educational institutions bill.


We have to force the government of India to protect education from these predators. For that purpose, let all stakeholders, viz students, teachers, non-teaching employees and officers of schools, colleges and universities, youth, parents, people’s science movement, etc converge to Delhi on December 2, 2010 to make the rally called by the national forum in defence of education a grand success.