Uni VC, Don Nutbeam, Is Out of Touch With Students

Uni top dog, Don Nutbeam, needs to remember that students are at the University too.

At a time when the higher education sector is confronted with profound restructuring by means of Conservative privatisation measures, it’s right that students demand a clear, consistent response from the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Don Nutbeam.

To this end, pressure group Southampton Students for Education have recently published a letter in The Guardian, imploring him to clearly state Southampton’s position on the new “market-driven environment.” However, on a blog published today, Nutbeam dedicated only a few lines in response which pitifully skirted around the issue, not only raising the question of how seriously he takes the views and demands of the University’s lifeline, the undergrad and postgrad cash cows, but marring himself as a Vice-Chancellor who would rather chuckle about serious issues facing the future of education and make cloying reference to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary before he takes the demands of students seriously.

A generation of ministers, some of whom have considerably benefitted from educational provisions determined by as arbitrary and irrational factors as class, are now burdening a less privileged generation with unprecedented levels of debt in return for the emancipatory university education.

Furthermore, they are forcing a restructure of the higher education market by cutting state funding, whilst simultaneously encouraging universities to allow private service providers to make up the shortfall. Of course, changes to the higher education are complicated and it’s better to have a Vice-Chancellor who puts some thought in to the issues before making the decision to condemn, but the endless detail in Nutbeam’s blog on how much he enjoyed the jetsetting and the suits makes me suspect that the swank of functions are a bigger factor in his considerations than the well thought out and poignant concerns of SSFE on the long term future of education.

Regardless of my views on the existence of this type of ‘market’, I am persuaded that the government wants to get its policies right for students and universities in these new and untested conditions. In turn, it is clear that we at Southampton have to get better at responding to this new market-driven environment.

When the double-speak is slashed from this statement, what Nutbeam is saying is that even if he does have reservations about marketization (and the commas around ‘market’ imply he doesn’t really accept it as such) he’s completely willing to be persuaded by the “well-briefed” David Willets for as long as he looks and sounds professional. Is this really applying the appropriate scrutiny to educational measures that Nutbeam owes students at the University?

It seems that the Vice-Chancellor enjoys dedicating tedious paragraphs to his media encounters, whilst adding insult to injury with patronizing sentences about the women accosted to the front of the shot for media purposes and braggadocio sighs about how tiring it is to be “a prop for an important public statement.”

Of course the blog was written in mind of the “several potential new partners” he hopes to “entice” and impress as his new audience, but it’s students, not business, that he should be answering to. The “important public statement” truly needed is a full statement on the University’s position on the restructuring of higher education, as well as all its future plans and collaborations, not a blog that leaves SSFE in want of an answer and the rest of the student body cynical that he’s hopelessly out of touch with their concerns.