Having just completed an undergraduate degree, I have experienced first-hand the left-wing bias dominating the UK’s academia. Not that I minded much my daily dose of post-Marxist virtue signalling; and on the plus side left-wingers can be rather good fun to wind up. Yet, looking at the wider picture, the overbearance of a partisan education has implications for all of us. This is because universities are forming some of our future intellectual and political leaders, and also produce research that can be influential. Thus, through some sort of trickle-down effect ideas fostered on university campuses can end up spreading to society at large.
University curriculums have not always evolved for the best. Teaching is one-sided. For example, in economics classes it is common practice to focus on market failure, and give little consideration to public-sector failure. Concepts such as constructivism, post-modernism and relativism are given a disproportionate importance in the humanities, social sciences and the arts. This encourages behaviours similar to what led to the controversy about the Cecil Rhodes statute at Oxford University, which was essentially an attempt to erase an entire chunk of British history. The prevalence of a left-wing bias in universities is further exemplified by a workshop for educational staff recently hosted by the University of Sussex centred on ‘dealing with right wing attitudes and politics in the classroom’. This should not come as a surprise since a survey showed that eight in ten British university lecturers identify as being left-wing. University professors speak to their students from a position of authority, and they should not abuse their students’ trust by transmitting their political views. I also suspect that Corbynism’s success with youngsters can be partially blamed on academics’ influence.
Arguably, the only justification for universities to get public spending is because education is understood to benefit society as a whole. Yet, the only way universities would fulfil this is by sticking to an objective and honest transmission of knowledge. The whole debate surrounding tuition fees should not have us forget that as of the financial year 2014/15 the government was spending £10.3 billion towards higher education. Whilst there is a point to be made about public money going towards skills we need as a nation, such as helping in funding training for nurses or engineers, the fact that universities have too often turned into a platform for left-leaning ideologies raises doubt as to whether the government should grant them money. Accordingly, the government should firmly remind universities of their duty to offer an impartial education, with the threat of losing some public funding if they fail to do so.
Moreover, this is failing students because it is no way preparing them to what is expecting them outside of the comfort of academia. For instance, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has stressed that today’s students lack the personal skills, awareness and basic self-discipline that is essential in the workplace. Indeed, landing in a business meeting after a few years of academic cocooning must come as quite a shock to some! Yet, universities are not merely failing students; the cotton-filled bubbles some universities are trying to create, with for instance, safe spaces, severe restriction on freedom of speech and trigger warnings, impact the sort of society we live in. The growing intolerance of alternative opinions in universities, with nine in ten UK universities restricting free speech, is teaching students that it is fine to shut down the people you do not agree with, rather than try and debate with them. What is more, it goes further than shutting down your opponents, there is an informal but lively campaign of vilification of people expressing different views to the ones anointed by the academic dogma. Expressing mildly-sympathetic views about Brexit or untamed capitalism can often lead to humiliation and ostracisation. This is particularly vicious because it effectively contributes to an effective blackout of alternative ideas, as even those who agreed quietly will fear to voice their views. This is unacceptable because it leaves left-wing ideology unchallenged, which is exactly what they are looking for since it takes very little factual evidence to rebut most of the Left’s ideas.
The recent Higher Education and Research Act, which is making student satisfaction a key factor in how universities get ranked through the Teaching Excellence Framework, will only add to the whole issue since university authorities will be more likely to bow down to students’ demands, however out of order they may be. This Act demonstrates that the government is still oblivious to the ‘the great blight of our age’.