In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Universities under AttackRachel Malik
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

For a long time I believed that being an academic wasn’t just the best career for me – which it clearly was, I loved it – but one of the best it was possible to have, especially within a university system committed to expansion. Yet recently I took voluntary redundancy after teaching in the humanities at Middlesex University for 18 years, and for the foreseeable future I have no desire to work in any university in this country – or, I imagine, elsewhere.

The attack on universities takes many forms. My focus here is on attacks from within: attacks on staff, academic and administrative, and attacks on knowledge that come from inside universities themselves. ‘Universities’ is not a simple plural. The ‘academy’ is a messy conjunction of increasingly conflicting elements and interests and these cut across the familiar oppositions between old and new, rich and poor, deserving and undeserving. Thus Middlesex is not just or most importantly a struggling post-1992 institution. Its management worked out a long time ago that survival and success did not lie with domestic students. The university has two overseas campuses – in Dubai and Mauritius – and is actively searching for a site and partners for a third, probably in India. Like many others, it has attempted to commodify as many of its assets as possible: courses and programmes in the form of franchises; research; and various types of higher educational and pedagogical expertise.

It wasn’t always like this. When I arrived in 1993 and for a good number of years after that, it was a wonderful place to work. Demand in the humanities was buoyant, and this was crucial to the opportunities we had to build teaching programmes from scratch and rebuild others, and to do our own research, encouraged both by the intellectual culture in which we worked, and by something else that has become increasingly rare: sabbatical leave.

Today the most reliable communiqué from the institution is the corporate newsletter. By ‘reliable’ I mean that it arrives regularly and contains no bad news. It is the familiar story of visions delivered, research impacting, champions championing. This corporate version of the institution is completely at variance with the lived reality of the staff and most of the students. These representations, like much else, exist for the benefit and reassurance of foreign partners, actual and potential. Meanwhile, on another part of the website, the voluntary redundancy scheme is now permanently open, punctuated by frequent compulsory redundancy operations. Both are designed to erode morale and force staff to accept increasingly degraded conditions of ‘service’.

Discrepancies of this kind are a part of everyone’s working life, but at Middlesex they were particularly jarring. In nearly all respects ours is an institution with no past. I do not mean by this that it does not have 500 years, or 150 or 50 years of history and tradition to look back on. I am talking instead about the managerial embrace of a particularly degraded form of the modern. The management speciality is ‘radical’ reorganisations: of teaching programmes, organisational structures and research priorities, all of which must be achieved at absurdly accelerated rates. Such revolutions are always justified as a necessary response to external conditions and to a future whose only certain quality is its uncertainty. Emergency is our everyday: it is always wartime.

When yet another one of these restructurings is declared, what we do – teaching, thinking, writing, marking, planning – is never taken into consideration. It counts neither as activity nor as value. Anyone who expresses reservations about the direction chosen for the future is, by definition, inflexible and disloyal. This is a particularly cynical version of modernity. No one wants to be on the wrong side of the future, and that future is achievable only through a complete cancellation of the past.

This revolutionary tempo sits uncomfortably with the rhythms of teaching and research. Last year Middlesex closed down its philosophy department, which has since moved to Kingston. It was an excellent department. It also had all the contemporary indicators of ‘research excellence’. When I asked my dean about the decision, it was obvious that excellence hadn’t been enough to save the department, so I asked him why the extensive funding the unit had earned from its RAE scores and various other funding sources had been no protection against immediate closure. He was (for once) perfectly clear: ‘But that’s over, that’s finished,’ he said, meaning that what was already earned simply did not count.

Within this ‘logic’, it is virtually impossible for an individual or group to accumulate intellectual value or capital, much less trade on it. This may sound – and it obviously is – cack-handed and incompetent, but something of the same logic is at work in the short-termism that is currently remaking the academic workforce.

Many university departments simply could not function without the energy, talent and goodwill of part-time lecturers, but the pattern of a skeleton permanent teaching staff supported by part-timers and those on teaching-only contracts has become a model for staffing in many institutions, and not just because it is cheaper. Those small numbers of permanent staff are increasingly going to be employed to develop, write and monitor courses that they will not teach and that exist primarily as units for sale or rent to a variety of markets, national and global. Little, if any, thought has been given to the impact of this on teaching and learning by the universities adopting this model. This commodifying of a course or a degree programme or a set of quality procedures is bad news. For one thing, the majority of academics and students are becoming ever more remote from the places where knowledge is produced. It is now seen as naive to insist on the natural connections between teaching and research.

Further, the global market, rightly or wrongly, is seen as a very conservative place: the role of self-censorship, the weeding out of anything that might prove controversial, is a necessary consequence of the edu-business model. The result is courses that become ever more anodyne as they compete to imagine the inoffensive. In various departments at Middlesex, course content is already indirectly determined by partner institutions, national and international: it can’t be taught here, unless it is taught there.

There has been a good deal of discussion about the direct pressures put on academics to produce work that sits comfortably within the research assessment criteria. However, I would suggest that as the financial situation worsens, institutions will need to apply less pressure on researchers to go where the money is. Academics will make their own adjustments, will internalise the priorities of the funding councils, and adopt them as their own. Soon they will become adept at second or even third-guessing them. Such pragmatism probably doesn’t make for very good research. But that pragmatism is likely to be strengthened as the nature of research itself is redefined.

In various forms of higher educational discourse, research is already starting to float free of ‘content’, that tricky, highly specialised, fancy knowledge that presents such a challenge to institutions such as Middlesex. Education is becoming a training in learning. Students learn a good deal about how to 'do' team-work and assess their peers, but rather less about the Victorian Novel or the Role of Literature in the Contemporary. Similarly, research has come to mean one of two things: the quantifiable thing that needs to score well in the Research Excellence Framework, or a set of transferable practices or methods.

These practices, increasingly generic and cross-disciplinary, are being taught to postgraduates, and increasingly to undergraduates, particularly those in what are now called ‘research-rich institutions’ looking for ways to justify their fees. Just as the good manager takes pride in being able to manage anything, so the good researcher will take pride in being able to research anything. Not knowing much about a subject area will present no difficulty, rather it might be considered an advantage, for the researcher will be untroubled by disciplinary loyalty – just like the manager who comes in from outside.

This may seem hyperbolic, but there are already strong precedents for this sort of approach in both management and teaching. And perhaps it isn’t so very far away from happening in academia. I recently chanced upon a website that provides students in humanities and social sciences at a UK university with information about the various types of research training available to them. Some of these were valuable – training about writing for publication, conferences, the profession and so on (we would be fools to reject professionalisation) but I was brought up short by a workshop on ‘the literature search’:

This second interactive workshop will provide an opportunity to find out how to identify the most important and influential literature from the literature search. Participants will use measures to identify journals with high impact factors, articles with large citation counts, and influential authors. Strategies for reading will also be discussed, as well as understanding how much to read, when to stop, and options for taking effective notes from reading materials.

This doesn’t call for elaborate interpretation. However, I find the unthinking correlation between ‘influential literature’ on the one hand and ‘high impact factors’, ‘large citation counts’ and so forth, rather worrying. Even before the first REF has run, its metrics have been adopted as the primary indicators of value and esteem. This research programme is offered, I might add, by a Russell Group university. Of greatest concern, perhaps, is that the training offered here is totally divorced from any particular body of material. Faced with such a free-floating model of what knowledge is, perhaps we should all think a little more carefully about the future of that proprietary ‘my’ in ‘my research’.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.