SSC Event In September

Here’s a message recently sent round to the SSC email discussion list. I thought it would be worthwhile to repeat it on the blog in case you’ve not yet signed up to the discussion list:

Dear All,

I would like to suggest that we all meet up for a one day event to be held in Lincoln in early September, either 3rd or the 10th.

The meeting is open to all who have registered as members of the Social Science Centre Co-operative or who have registered an interest. This includes those based within Lincoln and elsewhere.

The purpose for the event would be to set a work plan for the next twelve months: working towards a day when the Social Science Centre would start teaching students.

There is a general indication from informal discussions that the Social Science Centre would open in October 2012. This needs to be formally agreed.

The agenda for the one day event has been generated from other events held by the SSC and from formal and informal discussions. It includes:

Curriculum, including Pedagogy

Quality and Peer Review

Areas of responsibility: work groups

Recruiting students

Power and consensus decision making within the SSC

Comments and suggestions for this agenda are welcome. Please send to the SSC discussion list: introducing yourself if you haven’t already.

The venue of the day has yet to be decided, although it could be in the Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln, where we held our Consensus Decision Making workshop. The format is also up for grabs. All suggestions welcome.

We might want to invite Jonathan Rose to give a talk. He is the author of a seminal book: ‘The Intellectual Lives of the British Working Classes’, published by Yale in 2001. The book got a very good review from A C Grayling.  All other suggestions for speakers also welcome.

Best wishes,


“Science and Innovation” and the public university: a report from the field…

I attended an event yesterday in London which reinforced to me the importance of what we’re doing in the Social Science Centre and other alternative education projects around the country. The event was the annual “Science and Innovation Conference” which brings together delegates from STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) disciplines and industries to discuss research and development.

The usual array of the great and the good were present on the speakers list, including universities, government ministers, scientific advisers, ex-MPs, and big defence and energy industry representatives – BAE systems sponsored the event and BP were present filming a promotional video for their staff (which incidentally I now feature in as an audience member – maybe I should request a copy under freedom of information?!). The demographic reflected among the speakers was, with very few exceptions, white, male, middle-aged. The atmosphere in one of the sessions was thick with testosterone, with “ex-industry guys” talking about pushing projects out the gate “hard and fast”, and “killing” what doesn’t work. One notable exception was an excellent presentation from a Sheffield-based project (Big Energy Upgrade) which showcased joint work between the University, a housing association, a private energy company and local councils to retrofit a local council housing estate to make homes more energy efficient.

Despite the almost unprecedented levels of funding cuts in HE and wider society happening right now in the name of austerity, the atmosphere was generally one of self-congratulatory back-slapping over the “great deal for science” in the last budget. The fact that the research budget has been ring-fenced in cash terms was cause for guarded celebration it seems. No mention was made of the teaching budget being slashed, nor of the HE fee rises.

Although universities and higher education were a key part of the agenda, there was no discussion of the “public university“. Of course that wasn’t the focus of the conference, but there seemed a tacit acceptance among all involved that universities were there simply to “serve the needs of industry” – and in particular industries which work in “strategic sectors” of the economy, namely health, defence and energy. There was no critique whatsoever of current government policies – indeed, ex-Labour MP Ian Pearson, a member of the so-called “opposition”, expressed “sympathy” toward a Conservative MP on the panel and in general thought the government had done a “fairly good job” over the last year.

At one point a member of the audience raised the issue of the place of social sciences in the STEM world. The response was that social sciences have a “key” role to play, but the discussion of this was limited to “convincing the public” about some technological innovation and/or “behaviour change”. As Terry Wassall pointed out to me on Twitter, if the social sciences are so “key”, then why was teaching funding for these subjects virtually withdrawn?

In a way none of this is surprising, but it’s worth occasionally reminding ourselves of the reality of our situation and how we can go beyond it. I think it’s really important that we and other groups are presenting an alternative to this view of higher education and society, which sees economic growth and industry as central, and all else serving these goals.