is the university a factory?

a workshop at From meltdown to upheaval, LARC, 62 Fieldgate St on 11th September

Over the last thirty years we have seen a steady deterioration of the working conditions of university workers which has included a driving down of wages, precariousness of employment for many on short term contracts, the reduction of autonomy through more managerial control, an assembly line mentality both in the production of successful graduates but also in research papers.

Why has this taken place? Why has the value of labour power fallen? Why has autonomy been reduced? Is there now a two-tier division between researchers and teachers or are both categories experiencing the same process of loss of value and control? Has the traditional division between academics and support staff now come to an end? What about conditions in further education – does this show the university workers their future? Why has the labour process in university education, so long protected from the ravages of capital and the state, been subjected to the same methods of control, the same stifling of autonomy and the same domination of productivity and speed up as the capital driven economy? Are job cuts likely to accelerate the change whereby increased productivity is expected alongside a reduction in the value of labour power? Why have the trade unions been unsuccessful in resisting these changes? Are these changes specific to the UK or are these changes being experienced globally? If the trend of university research is towards providing R&D departments for capital does this threaten more academic or fundamental research in the arts and sciences? What are the implications of this?

Over the same period students have faced less contact with academic staff and are now expected to interface with virtual learning environments rather than traditional face-to-face contact.

Have these changes been driven by pedagogical or productivity concerns or a mixture of both? Are these new learning environments an improvement on traditional techniques? Have the concerns of the 1960s/70s generation of students been addressed, with regard to course content and teaching methods? Why did the 60s student movement fail to shift the emphasis from student to equal participant fail? Have tuition fees and loans paved the way for the student as consumer?  How far has the shift from student to consumer been successful?  Why did this take place?  Why was the student movement unsuccessful in resisting this change? Is there a disconnect between student as consumer and student as future wage labour? What allowed French students to see themselves as young workers and resist the CPE in 2006 while British students appear not to have made the link? Can we see any signs of this changing with the rise of unemployed graduates? What do the demands of the recent occupations at Middlesex and Sussex tell us about how students relate to wage-labour, be that in relation to university workers or to their future role as wage labour? Or did consciousness of the situation remain at the level of consumers?

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