Last week we received our 2016-2017 student cohort and the cliche of students getting younger every year held steadfastly true. More than anything else,though, it struck that these would be our first Brexit cohort, and that’s how I would inevitably remember them.
It pained me to think of the Britain these students will be striding out to in three years time. We will be out of the European Union. The promised crackdown on immigration will be in full cry, and the chance of further escalation in hate crimes is more than likely.
When I graduated, a barely credible 16 years ago, peak-Blair and pre-9/11, with very few clouds on the Cool Britannia horizon.
It feels as though this is a watershed moment for British higher education. The majority of our academics – from wherever in the world they might originate – share liberal, humanitarian cosmopolitan values- and feel the need to ensure those values are transmitted to the students who they are entrusted with.
At the same time, the new HE bill piles more pressure for universities to adopt a model of pedagogy which seeks to divest us of the freedom to express those values, and to evacuate our degree programmes of anything which is not of naked instrumental value. Everything is sacrificed on the altar of employability, student satisfaction and retention. Anything which doesn’t fit any one of these KPIs is vulnerable to being squeezed out.
On a number of fronts, from grammar schools to multi-tiered student visas, the diversity of our campuses are being threatened. European academics have already turned their backs on British universities to seek jobs on the continent instead.
Our universities should be bastions for tolerance, ports in the brutally ugly storm we find ourselves in, but we’re getting battered as badly as anyone else. I am heartened in the knowledge that many of my colleagues will continue to challenge the prevailing wisdom of what higher education should be, even as the space to do continues to vanish.