A Punk View of HE?

OK, I was never a punk, maybe I was too young in 1976, and the nearest I got was a Boomtown Rats gig, but as we survey the current state of HE, I do wonder if there is a need for a new narrative, to either run in parallel with conventional thinking or at least to challenge it when needed

My article below on Stefan Collini’s  critique of HE funding and marketisation, reminds us that there is a need in the academy for innovative and original thinking – that’s what brought us to work here in the first place, and that desire to research or inculcate originality of thought in our students is what drives us on. Even spreadsheet-toting managers like me.

In the Guardian recently, Nick Petford, VC of Northampton University wrote an article on What can universities learn from punk?

“We are a sector well placed to make the required changes that, against a backdrop of austerity, send a positive and compelling signal to the world, one of strength and confidence. Efficiency and effectiveness must be for real if the UK sector is to maintain its world class status. Key to success is to hold tight to one principle: that the ultimate driver of success is the students at our institutions and the quality and value of their experience.”

Not very punk……..I totally agree that a driver of success is the quality and value of student experience, but I think we need to go further than playing along with the neoliberal agenda as presented to us. University leaders need to challenge government thinking – current austerity was not caused by the universities, and changes to our funding don’t help address deficits (but they are designed to allow new private providers to enter the market more easily).


A punk approach would not be to defend the status quo, but would be based on anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual freedoms (to quote Wikipedia). The seismic changes occurring in UK  HE mean that universities need to remember  that although they are a major part of the establishment, at the same time, they also exist to challenge that very establishment.

To quote The Jam:

” I think we’ve lost our perception –

I think we’ve lost sight of the goals we should be working for

I think we’ve lost our reason

We stumble blindly and that vision must be restored!”