Saturday, December 13, 2008

Special NO Ethics Award

Special NO Ethics Award ...shame on the OU
Does quality matter? Does working with arms dealers matter? Does teaching mercenaries matter?
The no ethics award goes to the Open University for joining the Metrix consortium ! even when costs were reduced by cutting the length of training courses by 25% and reducing them! Defence minister Bob Ainsworth announced that the MOD was ploughing ahead, he pointed out that "considerable progress had been made in driving down costs..This will involve cutting the length of training courses by 25% through "compression, rationalisation and harmonisation". Officially that means cutting waste but those involved in defence training say there is nothing like the scope for 25 percent cuts.

Then Charles Barrington, the chairman of Metrix, said the consortium and the Ministry of Defence had been able to cut costs. That had been achieved in part by reducing the number of courses that will be offered.

Quotes to remember 'benefits' to the MOD of transferring risk to the private sector? Derek Twigg MP, Under Secretary of State for Defence, talks to PSCA International's Matthew D'Arcy about what lies ahead in bringing a new flexible approach to learning through the Defence Training Review. “Partnership with the private sector does give us flexibility, and this is the key point here, to decrease or increase student throughput. The partner will be able to generate third party income from spare capacity and also dispose of surplus capacity.

It also allows for a very important part of the role for industry to bring private sector management expertise and the ability to include significant capital investment at this stage. It is really about delivering a modern and flexible learning environment that will be fit for our service personnel of the future.”
Facilities key to defence trainingThe PPP Journal Issue 56 - Thursday, April 12, 2007

See Welsh Politican of year special awards

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Classified targets

The letter below appears in today's Times Higher. The article commented on is set out below that,

Classified targets

20 November 2008

John Holford's article "There is a wider purpose for universities than 'serving the economy'" (13 November) rightly draws critical attention to the Government's compression of the definition of higher education users to an increasingly narrow band within the spectrum of stakeholders - excluding staff representatives while including employer representatives in its "consultation group".

The approach is more worrying when considered alongside the comment by Christine King, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University, in the same issue on the Government's review of the part-time student sector, that "the extent of demand remains uncertain" for "higher education qualifications that are co-funded by employers".

Could the answer be right under our noses, among employers in one of the UK's world-class sectors - military armaments? After all, the co-chair of the consultation group, Sir John Chisholm, is executive chair of QinetiQ, a defence development company whose labours are reportedly 80 per cent "secret squirrel" work for the Ministry of Defence, so secret it is not open to commercial application.

There are worrying signs of the increasing militarisation of UK universities via secret and secretive contracting and partnership arrangements. Such narrow "consultation" exercises as those Holford highlights do not serve to allay legitimate fears within academia of what may happen to free debate and the flow of information within a higher education sector potentially increasingly co-funded under such circumstances.

Roger Rees, The Open University (in a personal capacity).
There is a wider purpose for universities than 'serving the economy'

13 November 2008

John Holford fears that the Denham 'user group' may be unaware of Tawney's ideal of education's generous, humane and liberal spirit

In his speech to the Universities UK Annual Conference in September, Secretary of State for Higher Education John Denham announced the formation of a "user consultation group" on higher education.

Some have voiced concern about this ("Academics and diversity in short supply on task forces", 16 October).

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, was rightly perplexed at the exclusion of academics, while Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, pointed to a "conflict of interest" in one of the group's joint chairmen also sitting on the Confederation of British Industry's higher education task force.

But few have asked: "What does this group tell us about John Denham's vision for higher education?"

Of course, we no longer find it strange that a Labour Secretary of State, when appointing what amounts to an advisory committee, includes no representation of labour whatever. In our brave New Labour world, few question that people's interests are best articulated by their employers.

Even if the purpose of higher education were reducible to furthering the interests of business, excluding representation of working people would make little sense. But as the nation's leaders grapple with the fallout from their infatuation with all things corporate, it is time to imagine again a wider purpose for universities than "serving the economy".

R. H. Tawney, historian, educator and democratic socialist, thought education should be of a "generous, humane and liberal spirit". So it should.

The members of Denham's user group may, for all I know, share Tawney's humane view of education. But he has appointed them as representatives of particular sectors and has asked them to advise him on what "a world-class higher education sector would look like in 10-15 years'" time to support their needs.

We are justified, therefore, in asking: whose needs are they likely to articulate? How broad is their vision of "world-class higher education" likely to be?

The group's co-chairman, Sir John Chisholm, now chairs the Medical Research Council and is executive chairman of QinetiQ, previously part of the publicly owned Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

No doubt he is an able manager; he is certainly a canny investor. Following its privatisation, Chisholm's £129,000 shareholding rose to £26 million. What balance between public service and private profit will he model for higher education? What vision of universities' role in their communities will he articulate?

"To get rich is glorious," said Deng Xiaoping, the late Chinese leader. The recently resurrected Peter Mandelson famously agrees. So, no doubt, does Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. By this criterion, the members of Denham's user group will do universities proud: our "users" are the CEOs of Pearson Publishing and of "a small business in the creative sector".

The director of the National Theatre is there to reflect "art and culture", and the "public-sector viewpoint" will be provided by the chief of the London Development Agency's Olympic Legacy Directorate. Universities' users, it seems, consist only of representatives of glittering business and cultural elites.

No "user" will speak for local communities; none for schools or hospitals; none for the old; none for charities or the voluntary sector; none for social movements; none for ethnic minorities; none for ordinary working people; none even for local authorities.

All this is, I regret, in keeping with recent government approaches to the role of higher education. Universities must not just play a part in "driving up" skills: serving the economy is now their raison d'etre.

Only the bravest university vice-chancellors and university councils with the best endowments try to implement broader, more humane visions. They receive scant support from government.

A recent case in point is the ending of public funding for adult students taking "equivalent or lower-level qualifications" - unless, of course, they enrol on specified (largely vocational) courses.

We may hope that Denham's user group will take a broader and more humane view than their backgrounds suggest is likely. Perhaps, as the wealthy pocket their City bonuses and ordinary people pay the price, he will consider whether the rich and powerful really have all the best tunes.

Perhaps he will remember that a Labour Government should speak for the poor, the excluded, the weak - workers by hand and by brain - as well as Mandelson's messmates. Perhaps a vision of R. H. Tawney and other earlier educationists will come to him in a dream. Let us hope.
Postscript :

John Holford is Robert Peers professor of adult education, University of Nottingham.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Will OU become a target?

Go to work in a flak jacket? The militarisation of the OU

Armed patrols for St Athan?

Is this new police force with "armed patrols" is to be deployed in the Vale at Aberthaw Power Station - you'll remember the protests that stopped work there just months ago? And would St Athan camp could be covered by the same force, if the Metrix scheme comes to make it into a likely terrorist target?
Is the Civil Nuclear constabulary to be expanded
into a critical national infrastructure police force?

Anti-terror patrols secretly stepped up at power stations Daily Mail 11th August

Massive expansion of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary is being secretly planned to protect Britain’s most vulnerable terrorist targets.

The Mail on Sunday has learned that it will be transformed into the Critical National Infrastructure Police and mount armed patrols around all key installations nationwide, including power stations, phone and computer networks, oil and gas pipelines, ports and airports.

Secret negotiations also include taking over responsibility for protecting Government buildings and key economic targets.

Drax in Yorkshire may be one of the power stations guarded by the force

The Civil Nuclear Constabulary is already responsible for guarding all nuclear power stations and other nuclear installations.

The 800-strong force also protects nuclear material when it is moved around the country and investigates any attempt to steal or smuggle atomic material. Its officers are routinely armed and it has 17 regional headquarters, mainly at nuclear plants around the UK.

Richard Thompson, a former Foreign Office counter-terrorism expert who has served in Iraq, took over the force in June last year and has been carrying out strategic reviews to prepare for its expanded role.

The intention is that the force, which has a ?50million-a-year budget, will have more officers and take over policing other power stations, critical telecom buildings, gas installations, fuel dumps, airports and other key terror targets.

Richard Thompson's force will guard power stations across the UK

It is also expected to take over protecting Britain’s main sea ports, some of which have their own tiny forces, such as Dover Port Police which has 50 officers.

The Critical National Infrastructure force is expected to be announced as part of Security Minister Lord West’s review of Britain’s preparedness for terrorism.

He has been focusing on security around chemical, biological and nuclear material, which terror groups such as Al Qaeda are trying to obtain to use in attacks. Last night, Lord West acknowledged that expansion of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary’s role was ‘one of a number of options available’.

Britain already has an intelligence agency, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, which is overseen by MI5, looking at terror threats to key installations and businesses.

In his first annual report, released last month, Mr Thompson said: ‘The role of the constabulary is shaped by the persistent and uncompromising challenge of the terrorist threat.’

He added that the force was doing more ‘to integrate ourselves further into the national counter-terrorist architecture’.

Spy Blog - Watching Them, Watching Us
Is this Critical National Infrastructure thing is only the fig leaf. They have found a compliant Chief Officer who will do his bit to form a national Gendarmerie, so that the UK can then join the European Gendarmerie Force.

House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 23 Feb 2007 (pt 0008) Robert Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the European Gendarmerie Force was established; for what reason the UK

And then they can have their new toys like the "anti-aircraft missiles and heavy machine guns, armoured fighting vehicles, attack helicopters etc" that you question earlier. And my betting is that they will "discover" that they do not need to pass primary legislation to do it, possibly not even a statutory instrument. As you say, this will be the Dept of BERR's own police force. Not to be outdone, I would also guess that the Home Office will attempt a major broadening of their direct national force - the borders police or whatever they are called these days.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The St Athan Defence Training Academy: the future of British education?

latest SGR Newsletter : Autumn *2008*
The St Athan Defence Training Academy: the future of
British education?

Stuart Tannock discusses the disturbing implications
of the Ministry of Defence's new multi-billion pound
training academy.

Britain's largest education and technology investment
project in recent memory has been developing quietly
under the public's radar. It is time we paid attention.
In January 2007, the Ministry of Defence awarded an £11
billion contract to the private Metrix Consortium
(see Box) to build a massive new training centre for the
British armed forces at the village of
St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales.

St Athan, which is expected to become one of the world's
biggest military training establishments when it opens
in 2013, will provide specialist training in engineering,
communications and information systems technology
to all three services of the British military. For the
first time, it will centralise in one location military
training that is currently done in sites
across the country.

Supporters of St Athan emphasise that the Academy will
use state-of-the-art technology and training methods
such as neurolinguistic programming, e-learning technologies,
computer-based training, computer-aided instruction,
emulation, simulation and Web-based systems. St Athan, they
claim, "breathes life into the classroom of the future
model which for many years now has been anticipated by
futurologists and thought leaders in the education community."
St Athan represents a "model for training in this
country" that will enable Britain to realise Lord Leitch's
vision of gaining "world leadership in skills."

Why should any of this worry us? There is the fundamental
question of why we should support such a massive outlay of
taxpayer money on a military that is still involved in
fighting an illegal war in Iraq – and in a country,
Britain, that already boasts the world's second-largest
military budget.Beyond this, St Athan represents three
developments which should be attracting extended public
and political debate, but which instead have
received little attention, beyond a small, local campaign
against the Academy that sprung up in Wales after the
project was first announced.

First, St Athan is part of a political project of
privatising the British armed forces, and turns over
responsibility for military training to a private, for-profit
consortium. At a time when, across the Atlantic, US Congress
is holding investigations into abuses perpetrated by private
military companies such as Blackwater in Iraq, Britain is
rushing headlong down the same path of military privatisation
that the USA has gone down before. This privatisation,
moreover, makes the British government a direct
partner of one of the world's largest and most controversial
arms dealers,Raytheon, which is a core member of the St
Athan Metrix Consortium.

Second, St Athan represents a major leap forward in Britain's
participation in the global arms trade. The Metrix business
model for maximising profits at St Athan is to maximise the
amount of training it provides, through serving not just the
British military but militaries from around the world.
Between 2002 and 2005, the Ministry of Defence provided
military training to more than 12,000 personnel from 137
countries, many with poor human rights records. With
St Athan, this trade promises only to increase.

Third, St Athan represents another step up in the ongoing
militarisation of British education. The Open University
whose Vice-Chancellor, Brenda Gourley, claims that
universities should be "beacons that reflect the very
best of which the human spirit is capable" – is a
direct partner in the Metrix Consortium. Schools around
the Vale of Glamorgan are making plans to train local
youth for jobs at the St Athan Academy, while colleges and
universities across South Wales, which have already
been extensively militarised over the past decade,
are exploring new Academy contract tie-ins.

Indeed, one reason why we shouldn't expect Cardiff
University, the premier institution of research and
learning in the region, to lead any critical investigation
into the St Athan project is that, in 2005, it signed
a long-term strategic research partnership with QinetiQ,
another core member of the Metrix Consortium.

Promoters of the St Athan Defence Training Academy
claim that it represents the future of education
in Britain. Without public investigation, debate and
critique of St Athan and other military research
and education projects across the country, there is
a strong possibility that this will come true.
If it does, it will not be for the better of Britain
or anywhere else in the world.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mark Thomas & St Athan debate film banned

OU bans film!

OUBUCU Ethics Group The Group was established by the Branch Executive in February 2007 to promote discussion and debate on the application of ethical guidelines to the University's partnership activities. It campaigns for the application of ethical guidelines to partnerships because: -

  • the University should be committed to social justice in practice
  • it enhances the reputation of the OU brand
  • it makes long-term business sense
  • societal and organisational awareness of ethical, environmental and corporate responsibility is spiralling upwards
  • it's just plain right !
Does it matter from the Open University's Income comes from? So they organised a meeting to discuss this and following it
The campaign went to Milton Keynes as guests of UCU and had an opportunity to speak to the audience after Mark Thomas who was talking more generally about the arms trade. The custom is that the event is filmed and made available to staff and union members who where elsewhere at the time however the OU have apparently stopped and banned the film from been shown anywhere - so sensitive they are to criticism or discussion on the issue. Derek Prior - with the grand title of director of communications - was seen lurking in the background - the OU very own speech police (pr/spin person) ! I don't think he liked his letter being quoted!

What did the Vice Chancellor Prof Brenda Gourley have to say in March 2007 at the opening of the ou posh new offices in Cardiff??
"we are proud to have contributed to Wales’ latest success, one of the biggest ever investments it has attracted. Earlier this year the UK Government announced their decision to site a new defence training academy at St Athan here in the Vale of Glamorgan. As a long-term partner in the successful Metrix consortium, we are already hard at work with our partners to turn the MoD’s vision into the reality of a military training centre of excellence. The initiative is expected to create around 5,000 jobs and bring around £58m to the economy annually - a massive boost for Wales and a perfect example of what partnership working can deliver."...whoops!

The Open University branch of the University and College UnionAddress: OUBUCU The Open University Room 015, Wilson C Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, Tel: Email: 01908 653069 ...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Should the OU be involved in the Arms Trade?

Does it matter from the Open University's Income comes from?

UCU asks in 'the spark' may 2008
Q. is the branch agaisnt partnerships with the armed forces?
A. UCA nationally and at Branch level , does not oppose students from the armed forces. The Metrix [partnership is different. It raises controversial issues regarding privitisation and the business methods of those we enter into partnerships with. One of the company's has been involved in a series of bribery and industrial espionage cases and another has been condemned for applying 'racial sterotypes' to trecruiting (and sacking) staff. Involvement with Metrix associates the University with the murky world of arms trading. what is the brand message there?
Q. what are the guidelines about
A. The guidelines focus on four main areas - arms trade, animal; welfare, ecological impact and corporate responsibility (including human rights) They set basic requirements that organisations wishing to partner with the University should meet. rather than 'reinvent the wheel' the guidelines are based on those successfully used by the co-operative bank.
They are set out as proposals in a preliminary Branch document which will be presented to senior management in the next month.

Q. Are other universities doing this?
A. while the OU heads into partnerships with arms manufactureres, other universities are going in the other direction. University College London has decided to withdraw all investment from arms companies. St Andrews University and Pembroke college, Cambridge have already done so. UCL has said it is conscious of the negative effect arms investment may have on alumni donations. New Hall and St Catherines colleges, Cambridge, have divested from companies doing business with the Sudanese government. The more 'commercial' universities become, the more strategic partnerships will come under the media spotlight, and influence the attitudes their stakeholders take to them.

Rays from the Gods