The central point of a recent piece, “Let’s make time for UKIP” seems fundamentally correct. The tyranny of Safe Space policies naturally offends the senses and much has been written of it. The trouble with Safe Space as a manifestation of leftist legal-administrative instrumentality is its limitless remit. As a community we do a disservice to the spirit of discourse when we decide to excoriate UKIP and hurl abuse at the sympathetic few rather than addressing the conditions which give rise to putatively objectionable policy proposals.
My issue is with the tacit proposition in the piece that we should allow ourselves to be seduced by league tables. Admittedly, the charms of hieratic scale and numerical (dis)ordering are hard to resist. However, any interrogation of the metrics that underlie UK university rankings can quite easily expose the fragile ground on which they stand.
The idea is hinted at that perhaps privatisation and student protest are related to our league table positions. There exists very little evidence to support this inkling. Let us examine the Times Higher Education rankings. These are, I think, the least objectionable set of rankings in that they do not use student surveys or 3 year old DLHE data.
Let us compare the 2013-2014 (where we were 121) THE data to 2014-2015 (where we were 111). The significant areas of change are Citations (per faculty) and Teaching. I do not think it necessary to address the idea that Estates and Facilities has somehow increased the presence of our researchers in footnotes. For privatisation to affect our ‘Teaching’ score, it would have to positively affect perceived reputation in Thomson Reuter’s invitation-only academic survey, staff-to-student ratio, doctoral-to-bachelors ratio, diversity of doctoral awards by discipline, or institutional income per staff member. Perhaps the last measure could support a positive increase by way of cheaper services resulting in more institutional income, but that metric accounts for 2.25% of the overall score.
Let us also recall our historical THE rankings.
As far as the question of privatisation’s effect goes, the figures (for once) speak for themselves.