Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Monbiot on university funding

Further to a recent blog post (scroll down for the relevant quote), this article from George Monbiot has popped up in the Guardian concerning the ability of corporations to fund university research.

Many of the comments on this piece, seem to miss his point, accusing Monbiot of wanting to live in a cave because he doesn't like Shell, whereas the argument seems to be more about whether corporate funding comes with strings attached. Not just Shell: the argument extends to any other industry that finances university education.

His point that universities don't accept tobacco funding is pertinent too: he cannot persuade universities to explain the difference between Shell and Philip Morris. The general public seems to be expected to accept that only big tobacco unduly influences government and so only big tobacco must be maligned – because its products are evil. The other industries produce stuff that is good for us like oil, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers and armaments, and it doesn't matter how much influence they purchase. The idea that tobacco companies can assist in funding cancer cures, for example, or even sponsor football, is seen as completely off the wall. It is absurd that tobacco must bear the cross of big, bad capital when there are so many companies out there, involved in activities that endanger life.

I think Monbiot is quite right to ask the question why some companies are supposedly beyond suspicion when it comes to funding higher education, especially when these companies yield so much financial clout. It's not that I don't believe some corporate higher education funding isn't inevitable, but it's quite wrong to make out that there is an issue of competing interests and apply it to tobacco and no other industry. In fact this kind of thing is a sop to anti-capitalist sentiment, allowing people to believe that they are censoring powerful industries that like to purchase government loyalty, while ignoring the fact that by and large most corporations can do whatever they like.

Issues that have aroused student protests at universities include: Newcastle students and AdidasUniversity of Zurich and Union Bank of Switzerland; Leeds and Swansea Universities and BAe; Oxford University and Lockheed Martin on Campaign Against the Arms Trade website; Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen and Eden Springs.

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