‘No space for teaching’

Note on the neo-liberal university 1

My blogging (and other writing) has dramatically slowed down in the last few weeks as I tackle the numerous bureaucratic obstacles placed by the university to the start of teaching.

There is an increasingly a growing body of work examining the relationship between free market capitalism and the university. (See for example EduFactory and Migrating University projects for good critiques of the neo-liberal university). Here I just wanted to share how this neo-liberalism operates on the ground at the University of East London (UEL) – a new university, with a large body of working class and black students, which is very much operating at the front-line of neo-liberal ideology. While areas such as funding, quality control, student fees, performance monitoring, audit culture and research assessment exercises, have been rightful targets of the critique, universities also operate control by the careful and extensive management of all its resources. At UEL the spaces and facilities available for teaching itself are centrally managed. UEL has a relatively new Docklands campus which has been expanding over the last few years. What is significant is how spaces for teaching in this expanding campus, have in relative percentage terms, been decreasing. Room booking and the allocation of rooms for teaching modules has become very difficult, with less and less appropriate space being available for classes. It is not that the facilities or the actual rooms themselves are not of a high technical standard, but the time and availability for rooms as identifie d by the university is now significantly determining how and what sort of teaching can take place. It has also become common place for rooms to be double-booked or apparent mis-understandings between university space management and academics in the sort of rooms being booked with resultant disruption of valuable class time.

This relative reduction in spaces for teaching is part of the logic to make teaching more ‘efficient’ in the context of space-time economic management. It is also an ideologically significant marker of the transformation of the university to the production of economically useful knowledge for capitalism. (See the recent announcement that UK research funding bodies will prioritise research that directly contributes to the economy). Availability of teaching classes is now secondary in the university to space for ‘business units, ‘knowledge transfer’ seminar boardrooms, corporate hospitality, marketing and publicity, external corporate conferences and events…. also to add at UEL the university library is embedded in the Business School building and is located on the trading floor!

Last year one of my classes of students and I were virtually physically removed by the space management troops when I refused to move rooms for the third time in the first 4 weeks of the semester. In the first 2 weeks I was given rooms with no tables to write on! I was told that this wasn’t their problem and that I had to sort it out myself. I did and they didn’t like it and they bought in these management thugs to reprimand me in front of the students and threw me out. This year they are going around monitoring room usage and sending out notices of room ‘under use’ or ‘mis-use’.

All this is minor, and I just wanted to vent my anger with the impossible situation many of us find us in, but it makes partially visible the insidious form in which new capitalism is permeating all teaching and learning.

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One Response to ‘No space for teaching’

  1. I think this is not unique to UEL. The same approach — first quantifying everything, then putting it into computers, and then atomised access of such central systems by lecturers is leading to an ordered chaos (irony intended). Anybody who opposes is stigmatised as anti-modernisation. I wonder if we are witnessing what Frederick Winslow Taylor did to the steel factories? What next time and motion studies for academics?

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