Mass closure of courses at London Met is a violation of human rights
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: ‘Everyone has the right to Education’ and ‘Higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.’ At London Metropolitan University, where Vice Chancellor Michael Gillies plans to summarily close 70 per cent of its courses, these rights are being grossly violated.
Of major significance in relation to the planned closures is the fact that London Met provides higher education to a large proportion of students from poorer backgrounds and minority ethnic communities.
In fact, people from poorer communities account for 57 per cent of the student population, making it the top university in the country for widening participation in higher education. In addition, more students from black communities attend London Met than all of the Russell Group universities put together.
The fact that the majority of courses affected are in subjects such as history, philosophy and modern languages will have far-reaching consequences for young people from poorer and minority ethnic backgrounds in terms of the accessibility of higher education in the arts and humanities.
In short, London Met is in violation of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As a London Met alumnus, I am in full support of the student’s sit-in at the university and think that there should be much wider support, since so much is at stake.
Professor Gillies, who it has been argued did not engage in a full consultation about the planned closures, has it seems, fully embraced the Government’s plans to scale down higher education in the arts and humanities and leave the higher education system to market forces.
This is a mistake of immense proportions.
Higher education, as a human right, is in the public interest and belongs within the realm of the public sector. Education should not be treated as a commodity – as the history of the mass media both in the US and UK, has shown us that when market forces prevail, this results in an undemocratic system that fails to serves the needs of all members of society and lower standards as consumerisation and commercialisation spin out of control.
The coalition government appears to have abandoned the widening participation agenda, demonstrating that it does not support the principle of social mobility and is prepared to sell the aspirations of young people from poor and minority ethnic communities down the river – and London Met is the first, but will probably not the last, to jump aboard its ship.
The Right to Equal Access to Higher Education should not be taken lightly and London Met’s actions in attempting to violate these rights should be challenged not just by students through protests but via legal channels.