ENGLAND, ENGLAND… AND THE CONSEQUENCES FOR CULTURAL STUDIES AND LITERATURE OF RAISING UNIVERSITY TUITION FEES

A very dear ex-student, Cristina Delgado, emails me a photo in which she appears sitting on the ground in the middle of the street with her boyfriend, surrounded by an impressive human wall made up of police agents. Both are doctoral students in England, just two among the many thousands forced to take the streets by the British Government’s decision to rise tuition fees from a maximum of £3,290 to £9,000.

I won’t pretend to be very well informed about the situation, which, as usual the BBC explains very well (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11483638) My first impression, though, is that of a nation slowly committing suicide, as education is the key to the future, whether individual or collective (for a comparison of England with Scotland, where university fees are still –mostly– free see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11515828).

Discussing this ugly situation with a colleague at Manchester University, just a couple of weeks ago, we wondered about the impact that the much higher fees will have on the teaching of Literature and, more particularly, of Cultural Studies. He worried about having to teach more hours and to more students, as they would demand more classroom presence from teachers –value for money, though we all know that warming seats in the classroom for longer has little to do with quality teaching.

Above all, however, he worried that the only students able to afford a university education would be, like in old times, (upper)-middle-class and upper-class. Coming from a more conservative background, they might avoid degrees with any kind of ideological left-wing whiff, which is certainly the case of Cultural Studies. Cultural Studies was started and is maintained mostly by us, the children of working class families enabled by some small miracle to attend university (in Britain by post-war Labour policies, in Spain by the post-transición Socialist government). Now it seems as if the cycle might be closing, unless a new wave of anti-bourgeoisie young people emerge, as happened in the mythical 1968. Maybe they’re marching in the streets of England, I don’t know.

As for English (that is, Literature) my guess is that fewer students of any background will choose it in Britain, given the limited related job opportunities. In Spain, let’s recall this, we, Literature teachers, teach under the protection of the label ‘Filología’ now renamed ‘Estudios.’ There are no degrees, new or old, just on a particular Literature in a given language. And here, at the UAB, our Licenciatura in ‘Literatura Comparada y Teoría de la Literatura’ was lost somewhere in the misty path towards the new degrees.

It’s hard not to feel depressed these days, whether you are young or not so young, a student or a teacher, in the sciences or in the humanities. Truly, this is the winter of our discontent.

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