A free university is being established in Liverpool as a protest against the current state of the country’s higher education system and a plea for its reform.
The Free University of Liverpool is the culmination of work by a committee of activists, artists and academics currently employed by formal education institutions who have come together to try provide an alternative for students whose current system they see as increasingly susceptible to marketisation.
From this month the project will open its doors to students to allow them to begin a six month foundation degree and a further additional three year BA in what the creators have termed “cultural praxis”, meaning the study of culture from radical, critical perspectives.
Functioning on a voluntary basis, the staff will rely on financial support from monetary donations to fund the renting of space in community centres and art venues to books to fill the university’s own library. Pledging their time and expertise to create the project, they hope it will encourage a fightback “against the ConDems ruining of civil society” and a vision for a fairer, more progressive education system.
The committee said, “The overall mission of the university is to engage in an education that is not for-profit but for the public good. At the Free University of Liverpool we are free of that particular kind of disease and we plan to keep it that way.
“The current system perpetuates injustice. That’s been the case for many years since the decision was made to move higher education to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and introduce into it for-profit models.
“The ConDem government want to take that a step further and create a tiered higher education system that includes elites who charge top dollar and look down at everyone else competing and a struggling set of cut-throat universities that work much more like businesses. Unless government policy is repealed and the selling of education to the markets is reversed we’ll keep on with the project in some form or other.”
Although the courses will not be formally accredited, through the granting of the status of University by the Privy Council and the validation of degree awards the project is finding an increasingly large amount of international academic support.
Already the university has attracted a host of scholars and artists who have agreed to hold lectures, seminars and workshops. Distinguished professor David Harvey and social theorist John Holloway are some who will offer their time for free over the course of the next few years.
Lisa Newman, a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, will be another such visiting scholar. She said, “I think it’s important to create a method of education that focuses on exchanges of ideas and skill building and exists outside of economic and financial structures. I feel that there is often a sense of ‘buying’ one’s education in tuition-based schooling, and this sets a bad precedence for approaching other non-commodifiable experiences in life.
“This project could set examples for not only new ways of learning, but new ways of teaching through creating a curriculum based on participants’ interests rather than a standardized syllabus. I think this is an important project to create anywhere and encourage more to start.”
The committee say that although they can not offer financial support due to “contradictions if you seek or accept funding from sources you are fighting against” the course will appeal to people from any background who agree with the university’s aims and will focus on their needs and desires.
What force for change it will encourage and whether it will be able to fully engage with a broader range of people including those from lower income backgrounds will be something that remains to be seen over the next few years.