A Post-Covid19 recovery should prioritise people and the environment over profit, tackling the climate crisis at the same time. It will be a complex task encompassing many social, economic and ecological factors. Higher education is part of this large puzzle and the picture we should all be aiming to build is one of a fair and inclusive society, one that values and protects people and the planet.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in what was business as “Normal”. It has highlighted the need for leaders the world over to listen to the warnings of the scientific community. We are supposedly being guided by the science in our response to this challenge; science has been warning for years now that our planet is on the edge of ecological breakdown. The crisis is here.
We must act now, we cannot go back to “Normal”, as “Normal” was a slowly building crisis itself.
You cannot have infinite growth on a planet with a closed system of finite resources and not suffer ecological breakdown and growing inequality. There is however a silver lining to the cloud currently engulfing the planet; we have been presented with an opportunity to reset the economy in a way that puts the welfare of our planet and all that live on it, above maximising profits for the few. No small task, but we must be ambitious and even if we fall short at least we are heading in the right direction, we can lay the foundations. We must build back better.
We can clap for our carers and our key workers, but a more meaningful action would be to properly fund the NHS. Years of strangling cuts has been exposed in a country where a 100 year old war hero has to walk around his garden 100 times in order to raise money for the NHS. The NHS is not a charity, it belongs to us and we all pay for it in our taxes and the government should remember this.
We can talk endlessly about cutting emissions by 2050, but a more meaningful conversation would be how to accelerate plans and incorporate a green new deal in a way that would safeguard the environment and promote equality in the economy.
We can spout soundbites about “levelling up” the country, but a more meaningful approach would be to fund public services properly and empower communities to become more resilient in the face of the challenges recovery from the pandemic and the growing climate crisis will bring. It is our money, our economy and it should be used for the benefit of all.
And despite the frightening unfolding of events, there have been great displays of solidarity and communities have come together to help those most vulnerable and in need. I have never seen such strong community spirit and we must build on it.
Unions are built on solidarity and those willing to stand up for a better way forward, if there was ever a time that needed solidarity, now is that time. Unison has a part to play in this recovery and within the Higher Education sector we need to push for change. The package of measures the Government has released to assist universities does very little to secure their future. Particularly when put into context of years of forced competition, the compounded issues arising from marketisation and when coupled with a projected drop in student uptake next year, it could very well mean that people will lose jobs and even result in some universities collapsing.
Universities bring great benefits to society; they can be the stimulus for cultural and social activities; They are centres of scientific research and innovation; They provide economic benefits to local areas and employ many local people. On an individual level they provide self-development and realisation, improve employability and encourage civic engagement. All things we will need in the rebuilding of our country post Covid-19. They should be funded properly and brought into a free and linked up education system along with early years, primary and secondary schools and colleges.
Education is a right, not a commodity to be marketed, and a university education is ultimately a public good.
FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW TO HELP US BUILD BACK BETTER:
1.) Join Unison!
2.) Get behind our “Don’t Fail Our Future” campaign:
3.) Write to your MP about the crisis currently facing Higher Education:
4.) Sign and share this petition demanding the Government save Higher Education: https://www.megaphone.org.uk/petitions/save-higher-education-from-a-rapidly-approaching-crisis
5.) Check out Build Back Better and spread the word:
Keep safe and be kind.
Chris Baker, in a personal capacity