Challenging the Corporate Herd: University Restructuring as an Opportunity for Liberation

When asked what radical change he would like to see in the next five years, Centennial Professor of Economic Anthropology Keith Hart replied along the lines of, ‘teach kids about money at school’. Recently students at the University of Amsterdam have occupied their educational institution in the face of ever increasing financialisation and risky investment. In the wake of this, students in the UK at the London School of Economics (LSE), and now at the University of Arts London (UAL) have also sprung into action in an attempt to resist further financialisation of their universities.

On my way round London on weekend I noticed the irony of Londons hipster centre having the most direly 'restructured ' station.

On my way round London on weekend I noticed the irony of Londons hipster centre having the most direly ‘restructured ‘ station.

I learnt during a visit this past weekend to Occupy LSE, as a visiting speaker explained, that UK Universities are restructuring in line with the changes in income and expenditure that have been instigated to some degree by the increase in tuition fees. Universities or in this case LSE are restructuring not simply to deal with this new fee situation, but are taking the opportunity to significantly restructure in a particular way, one that students at Occupy LSE are recognising and experiencing to be less about education and more about LSE reconfiguring what it is. Whether you see this restructuring along financial lines as benefiting a University education or not, it means that significant change in the university structure is not only possible but in full swing.

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Occupying students therefore are suggesting that this restructuring should be an opportunity to better universities as bastions of education and equality instead of bringing them in line with the corporate sector. In this sense students have aptly identified their management as following the herd rather than setting their own agenda as institutions of education.

Over the rest of the weekend I also came across Reteaching Economics, attended a class on how the Internet works, as well as a meeting to learn about political changes in Rojava. In all these cases people were coming together to empower themselves through demystifying and learning about the knitty-gritty that makes up our world rather than leaving it those higher up the pecking order to look out for them; whether it was about teaching relevant economics or surfing the web without being spied on. The last example was also pertinent in light of restructuring, as its proponents shared their story of how they are organising their political economy along democratic and equal lines as an autonomous region.

All this brought to the fore, as I recollected the speaker at the LSE, that contrary to some opinions of apathy, students are seeking to understand how the organisations they are a part of work! And in doing so are calling on fellow member of their Universities to, in particular those with the salaries to match their power, to restructure toward the democratic ideals so often proclaimed by Europeans.

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What became to be clearer as the day went is epitomised in Hart’s call for ‘teaching kids about money’. Members of a University, students and staff, should not simply be demanding changes from above, but as was being done at the LSE, students and staff actively learning about how, in this case, University ‘money’ works. In this light one step that staff and students might take more widely without managements full oversight, is to extend this learning about University money into the official university curriculum. Set an assignment whereby an economics, politics and anthropology student team up and explore how their own universities economy works. An assignment that actually involves researching from the ground up and not just theorising about it or letting it remain a mystery. Finally ask students to suggest in light of their research how they might restructure the University.

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I mean at LSE for example, these are students that are meant to be the economic lights of the future and they have had to pass multiple stringent demands to be at the LSE, so perhaps they should be supported to (a) understand their own economy, as LSE Occupy are endeavouring to do from the limited data they are allowed to access and (b) offer a plurality of possibilities for restructuring, rather than simply assuming corporately mobile managers know it all. As was obvious from looking at the financial reports of LSE and a number of other Universities, management so far are simply following the corporate herd in restructuring instead of displaying leadership and economic knowledge in setting their own educational agendas.

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