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.