April 8, 2014.
Manchester Metropolitan University are (sic) working with the Qatari government to train Qatari police officers. What does the export of policing 'expertise', such as within this lucrative business deal, reveal about the transformation of academia in the UK?
A recent development at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) presents an incisive illustration of the problems and dangers that too much pragmatism and 'playing the game' can visit upon higher education. For a university and a faculty (Humanities, Languages and Social Science) that prides itself on research into social justice, human rights, and on creative expression, the potential and actual hypocrisies are particularly clear.Read the rest here.
I refer to the signing of a lucrative contract with the Qatari Ministry of Interior, worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds, over the next 3 years. Working in partnership with the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and the UK College of Policing, academics will provide English language tuition to Qatari police cadets and officers, while GMP and the Police College will train them in effective methods of policing. Staff from MMU's Sociology department, who were instrumental in putting together the bid, will also be involved. The faculty have so far released very little official information on the deal, other than to state there are "clearly more opportunities for us in Qatar which is also a priority market for the UK Government" and that it "takes our international aspirations to a new level" (email sent by the Dean, 16 January 2014).
Without being able to comment on the specifics of this latest agreement, it is worthwhile learning something about the university's new business partner. MMU already has deals in place with the Qatar Skills Academy, providing Masters programmes such as MSc Educational Leadership and Management, MA Educational Business and Management, and a BA (Hons) Degree in School Business Management.
The public image of Qatar leads with its architectural motifs, including skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and new universities, signalling its status as an extremely well off Arab Gulf State. Qatar's revenue comes mainly from natural gas, facilitating close ties to the United States. They are hosting the 2022 World Cup, so the UK's current government has been particularly welcoming.
Whilst this superficial skyline may suggest high standards of living, the reality for many is in marked contrast. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have published multiple reports on the effective enslavement of the foreign workers who make up around 80 percent of the Qatari population (and 99 percent of the private sector workforce). These migrants come mainly from East Asia, South-east Asia and Africa, paying middle-men huge fees to gain entry.
Because of the World Cup, their treatment has recently become prominent in the Western press. Many of the male workers hired to construct new stadia are dying of heart attacks brought on by exhaustion, or in building site accidents. Those who survive reside in unsanitary and cramped conditions, which they can't escape because their passports and other documents have been taken from them. As non-citizens, they are not allowed to unionise or seek representation. Female domestic workers are also badly treated, working some of the longest hours in the world and often living in fear. Proposed legal reforms do not bring standards into line with those afforded to citizen workers. Benefits like cradle-to-grave social care are offered only to the small number of entitled citizens who make up 250,000 of a 2 million plus population. When we consider those who reside there thanks to work permits, it is harder to go along with the state's official narrative – a narrative which for project partners is somewhat convenient.
*****Comment: In an ideal world universities are supposed to be places where ideas are debated and research is conducted for the purposes of publication and the dissemination of information.
All of this is supposed to function against the unfettered expectation that universities cannot be co-opted to seek favor with this or that commercial interest because they are supposed to be dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge at all costs - including reaching despair and even poverty.
Unfortunately this ruse is mythological or more accurately, a damn lie of fancy.
Like all capitalized institutions universities are - or fast becoming where they are not - just like any other corporation seeking favor and benefit and often at the cost of impartiality and human progress.
Universities can be bought, sold and traded. Academics are not exempt and often join their administrative counterparts to sell off the delusion that they walk inside the walls of supposed learning because they love the world of purported ideas.
Advanced capitalism has dealt this imagery of an unfettered university a death blow.
Like healthcare or daycare or any other capitalized organ of institutionalized society, the university is nothing more than an interest of the few elite seeking favor with those who hold power and mostly, lots of money.
It is a sad state of affairs that is even more insidious than my critique here suggests.
Just one further line of insidious deviance is the manner in which the university determines what is worth teaching, researching and publicizing. Wonder why the humanities and social sciences are shrinking except where they function to prop up elite interests and concerns?
Well you probably know why if you have read this far. Universities are in the business of selling and self-preservation. Alternative discourses may be fun when argued over but what sells is what capitalism demands.
And so universities narrow their focus and seek out opportunities that align with their interests. Often these interests are about making dominant thinking and its power hierarchy the prevailing reality.
So who should care that Manchester Metropolitan University is willing to deal with the metaphorical devil and undo the supposed assumption that universities are about progress across the ignorance of oppression and superstition?
Well obviously the folks at Manchester Metropolitan University could care less that Qatar is a cesspool of human rights violations.
Hey there is a buck to be made in this the era of educational entrepreneurs. Who is to blame in this time of not hating the player?
A sad reality this selling out of ideals - but definitely not an uncommon one even here in the land of make-belief rainbows.