Universities In Scotland Being Turned Into “Retail Outlets”

University of Strathclyde, Rottenrow Gardens

By Naina Bhardway, News Editor (@NainaBhardwaj96)

Scottish universities are heading towards a stature where institutions will be seen as retail organisations, a union official has warned.

Douglas Chalmers, President of the University and College Union Scotland said that the marketisation of higher education in England by means of undue influence from large corporations over courses content and the prioritisation of popular, money-making courses and research regardless of the wider worth and contribution to society is shaping the Scottish system with little opposition from Principals.

He said in a speech to the annual UCU conference in Stirling: “Despite the increasing divergences in the devolved nations we’re still impacted by the free market educational philosophy from England which some Scottish Principals seem to be uncritically lying down before.

“One is the whole idea of the marketised university, aligned almost solely to business interests where students are customers who believe they are buying a service from an individual establishment.

“In this view, universities are also seen primarily as engines of growth for the economy and their activities brought in line with the needs of industry, finance and commerce.”

Chalmers said professional schools and disciplines now has an importance “commensurate with their position as the chief income generating programs.”

He added: “Like other retail organisations, which is how theyre seen and many see themselves, universities have… performance indicators used to measure achievement and weed out failure.

His comments came after the recent news that the Edinburgh University branch of the UCU warned that the career prospects of lecturers were being dictates by student surveys.

The Scottish Government has made it a priority for universities to direct some of their work toward’s the country’s economic priorities in return for the public funding they receive.

Shirley Anne-Somerville, the Higher Education Secretary, said it was important universities were independent academic organisations but she added: “There is no obligation within universities to look at what the economy needs when they are developing their degrees.

“That is not in any way about limiting what universities do, it is about recognising a link between the graduates and what they hope to achieve afterwards in terms of employment.”

The UCU Scotland Union also backed a motion calling for higher levels of public funding for the sector after a 1% cut in the 2017/18 budget following a 3% cut in 2016/17.

The motion from the UCU Scotland executive states “In the past year we have seen job losses and either threatened or actual compulsory redundancies in a quarter of Scotland’s higher education institutions.

“Congress calls on the executive… to campaign for a settlement for higher education which puts the sector on a firm financial footing.”

A spokesperson for Universities Scotland, which represents Principals, said delivering on many different levels was a feature of a successful university.

She said: “Universities face often conflicting demands from a vast range of stakeholders, whether that be students, staff, the government, employers, funders, local communities, industry and others.

“Universities are very focuses on producing motivated and highly employable graduates, but universities also passionately believe in the intrinsic value of learning for the sake of learning.”