I am shifting early in the morning from London to Barcelona to begin to prepare for the GUNi conference and wanted to share some thoughts based on some of the goings on that I have been part of here in the UK for the past weeks. I have had a visit to the National Coordinating Committee for Public Engagement in Higher Education in Bristol, a chat with Sir Peter Scott at the Institute of Education in London, a meeting of many of the leaders of the International Association of Universities in Salford, near Manchester, a talk on Knowledge Democracy at the Association of Commonwealth Universities, a brief chat with Prof. Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Salford and a disappointing draw match between my football team Arsenal and Manchester United. And of course the death of Margaret Thatcher that raised once more the outrageous arrogance and nastiness of the war against the working class unleashed during her term.
The growing inequality between the now super rich and the poor that has been so convincingly documented by the Wilkinson and Pickett study, an OECD study, a World Bank Study and even the business-oriented Board of Trade in my home country of Canada and that was thrown into the global media by the Occupy Movement may be having a positive impact on the courage of some of our Vice-Chancellors, Presidents and Rectors in many of our universities. Just as the grotesque depths of poverty of the Victorian era forced politicians to ask what could be done to ameliorate the situation then, some heads of higher education institutions are beginning to speak out about the need to introduce the ‘social question’ into the discourse of higher education in contrast to the near unanimity of ‘economic speak’ and marketplace dynamics that we have seen over the past 25 or so years.
Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford asks whether higher education is to serve the marketplace of social justice? Vice-Chancellor Saleem Badat of Rhodes University calls for the elimination of colonial knowledge frameworks. Dzulkifli Abdul Razak of Albhukary University is education young people from around the world who would have been too poor to go to university. And there are more. While these few visionary leaders are in the deep minority amongst their peers, I am beginning to wonder, are we seeing the beginnings of a new discourse of higher education and environmental, social, economic and cultural justice? I hope so.