Prof Patrick McGhee

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Higher Education in 2012 – Some Predictions

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Predictions in higher education are notoriously precarious at the best of times. Looking forward to 2012, the endeavour is even more thankless than usual given the volatility, fragility and timidity of the sector. Universities and other HE poviders have over the years certainly shown themselves liable to do all kinds of weird and wonderful things.  Such as giving football clubs honorary degrees, running courses in surfing, dressing in ever more funny robes or educating the offspring of tyrannical despots. In fact it is wholly conceivable that a wide range of things will happen to the sector that the sector did not see coming. Nonetheless, I’m pretty much certain that all of the following things will definitely happen. What’s that coming over the hill? It’s Higher Education 2012.

  1. January – In a shock move, DBIS and DfE are merged overnight, with Michael Gove becoming Minister for All Education. All  HEFCE memoranda to be written in Latin and universities to hold weekly Parents’ Evenings. All institutions in receipt of SLC funding to provide free milk between 11am and lunchtime. For all STEM and SIVs afternoon lectures there is to be compulsory ‘heads on desks’ at 3.30pm.  All Art & Design institutions to become ‘Free’ universities, ie. free of any discernible form of public funding whatsoever.
  2. February – Labour publish ‘radical alternative’ to Coalition HE White Paper reforms. All existing measures retained but fee cap reduced to £8,900.  “This is a bold move and opens up clear blue water between us and the Coalition. Some will say ‘How can the country afford it? I say how can we not afford it? What is the price of ignorance?’
  3. March – Following pressure from Martin Lewis, Government announce new arrangements for student support funding. Henceforth students will be issued with 20 free National Lottery tickets every Saturday morning and can keep whatever winnings come their way.  The move is greeted with surprise across the sector but NUS state “We welcome this long overdue reform which will provide a more predictable and reliable payment schedule than students had previously experienced with SLC”
  4. April – A C Grayling makes application for New College of the Humanities to join Russell Group. Application dismissed on grounds that NCH is insufficiently elitist. Million+ launch new hard-hitting, evidenced-based report “You’ve All Got it Wrong And This is What You Should be Doing”.
  5. May – HE Bill Presented to Parliament.  In shock departure from protocol a Committee of the Whole House insist that David Willetts be required to submit four hard-bound copies of the Bill and be subjected to a viva voce examination by one UK MP and someone from another legislature, with no previous association with the work. After a gruelling three hours interrogation the Bill is passed into law subject to minor corrections, tidying up a few typographical errors and the correct labelling of the axes in Chapter 4 (‘Increase in SLC debt 2014-2020’).  Questions are raised about the thoroughness of the examiners however when The Times Higher subsequently reveals that on page 582 of the Bill is the phrase “If you really read this far I’ll buy you a bottle of whisky, David”
  6. June – Pearson sells KL educational publishing arm, buys Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus. “We believe this to be a key milestone in our higher education Asia strategy”. Home Office deny that UKBA online immigration procedures are too complex, amid claims that application software is “already too sophisticated for its own programmers to predict what it will do next”.
  7. July –  In a desperate attempt to get tougher with selective universities on social mobility, David Willetts and Vince Cable occupy the Russell Hotel.  “We have a number of general grievances with the system which we are not necessarily able to articulate at this time. We do believe we are capturing the public mood and we will not be moved. We are the 2.6%”. UKBA online application process achieves self-knowledge and rudimentary consciousness on 3 June 2012 at 04.17hrs GMT.
  8. August – In a move widely regarded as misjudged, 1994 Group hire chauffeured limousines for all AAB students on A-level results day to drive them to local cashpoints to collect free cash. “We reject any allegation that we are engaged in inappropriate recruitment practices. UCAS and OFFA have fully  endorsed our Bumper Bonus Banknote Bundles Bonanza Bursary Scheme.” UKBA online application process narrowly defeated in attempt to become Conservative Party candidate for Hull. 
  9. September – Youngest ever Noble Prizewinner announced, Professor of Nanotechnology at the University of Seoul aged 24.  “Of course this is for work I carried out almost a decade ago”.
  10. October – Pearson sells Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus, buys Malaysia “We believe this to be a key milestone in our higher education Asia strategy”
  11. November – Following news of abolition of the Tuesday Education supplement, The Guardian reject claims they are reducing HE coverage.  “We are committed to a tweet every third Thursday whether there’s news to report or not”
  12. December – Pearson sells HEFCE. Advised by DBIS that it does not own HEFCE. Buys DBIS. “We believe this to be a major milestone in establishing a visible presence in British Higher Education. As was.”
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The Complexities of Tackling Discrimination in Football

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I remember watching a friendly match between England and Holland live on TV in the late 1980s. Every time Ruud Gullit touched the ball sections of the crowd launched into a low, menacing booing that was clearly audible in the broadcast. “Gullit getting some good-natured ribbing from the crowd there” said the commentator. At the time I thought the commentator was naive, later I suspected he was all too aware of the racist connotations and was seeking to locate the behaviour in an underdeveloped narrative of friendly Anglo-Dutch sporting rivalry. As far as I remember nothing was said subsequently in the press about either the booing or the preference of the BBC to play it down.

Winter 2011 – A Point of Crisis? 

Times have changed. Football faces several challenges now and is responding in different ways.  Suárez and Terry face allegations of racist abuse on the park, charges which both of them emphatically deny.  But racism is not the only challenge for football authorities as we move into 2012, UEFA Championship and Olympic Soccer year. There have been specific incidents of homophobic chants from ‘fans’ of both Brighton and Southampton recently and police and clubs, commendably, have taken action.  In Scotland, after a period of seeming dissipation of explicit sectarian hostilities, incidents have grown both on and off the park leading to new anti-bigotry legislation.

There is no doubt that racism, homophobia and sectarianism while sharing some damaging, discriminating and distasteful features, are also different in character.  They have different historical roots, political underpinnings and overtones, different relations to economic and political power, and to a range of cultural and media narratives both regional and national.  However, the overall reaction to these incidents and developments to some extent provides grounds for guarded optimism about changing attitudes to discrimination in football.  It is just the case that behaviours which would have been tolerated only a few years ago are now dealt with relatively swiftly and robustly, supported seemingly by an establishment consensus that underpins not just condemnation but also  action beyond mere censure.

But is Winter 2011 a point of crisis for football? I would argue that it is. This is principally because whatever the increasing commitment to tackling discrimination, we still lack a consensus on a clear model for intervention. Interventions in sport are historically complex but it is important to get it right as far as we can. One aspect of rising to that challenge is to look in detail at the ways in which intervention, and in some cases lack of intervention, is a complex business.  This review is not meant to be exhaustive, but will highlight some features of some recent and ongoing anti-discrimination interventions in football.

The Politics of Intervention: The ‘Round Against Racism’

Looking at global and local reactions and initiatives to discriminatory behaviour we see of course that football is just one locus of a complex matrix of historical, economic and cultural issues. The range of actual or advocated educational, financial, technological and legislative interventions are complicated by the multiple consequences of such interventions.  However, all of the responses and reforms raise difficult questions to which there are no easy answers.

For example, Tim Vickery as part of an excellent recent piece on the Suárez case comments on this year’s Brazilian FA ‘Round Against Racism’ Day, where all penultimate day league matches were declared to be a statement against racial discrimination. But there was no follow up, no initiative, rather, says Vickery,  “The Round against Racism” was nothing of the sort. In reality, cynically and opportunistically, it was the “Round against Blatter”.  As Vicker reports, there was no attempt to put anything on anti-racism in context, and behaviours by fans did not seem to be treated any differently during or after the event.  This was clearly a tactical intervention to position the Brazilian FA against Blatter.

We need to be careful here. Assuming Vickery is correct, this will not have been the first time a supposedly progressive anti-discriminatory intervention has reflected instrumental or self-serving motivations. Additionally, while there can be no doubting that many Brazilians inside and outside the FA are opposed to racism, it is just that such calculated interventions cannot necessarily be taken as evidence for that opposition. However there are genuine voices of opposition. Perhaps most notably Brazilian footballing icon Socrates, who died last month, in one of his final pieces of writing condemned high profile Brazilians such as Pele for not speaking out against racism. We have to remind ourselves that an instrumental intervention is possible by those who genuinely oppose racism, and that there are debates within as well as across national bodies and cultures.

Regulation, Fines and Awareness Raising as Intervention: FIFA and ‘Anti-Discrimination Days’.

As has been pointed out by the Observer Said & Done column (which highlights with no little tenacity and wit alleged hypocrisy and lack of resolve in sporting bodies) FIFA itself has a long history of public commitments to anti-racism but in practice imposes arguably limited fines on clubs and associations found guilty of any violations. This being a consequence of the self-imposed ‘cap’ on fines set by FIFA (see below).

It is worth looking in detail at FIFA’s Disciplinary Code which puts a cap on the amount clubs or national associations can be fined for discriminatory behaviours:

Anyone who offends the dignity of a person or group of persons
through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions
concerning race, colour, language, religion or origin shall be suspended
for at least five matches. Furthermore, a stadium ban and a fine of at least
CHF 20,000 shall be imposed. If the perpetrator is an official, the fine shall
be at least CHF 30,000.

FIFA Disciplinary Code, Section 58, 1 (a)

(CHF 30,000 is just over £20,000 as of December 2011)

This maximum amount for example was the fine handed out to the Croatian FA by FIFA in 2008 for racist chanting in the Croatia vs England World Cup qualifying match. It could be argued that FIFA have resisted percentage-based fines (of gate receipts or turnover) due to the political pressure and consequences. However, in terms of ongoing initiatives FIFA’s engagement has been focused on FIFA Anti-Discrimination Days.  While it is clearly important to raise awareness across the full span of world football activities under FIFA’s remit, and while all World Cups have one day set aside for this initiative, it is difficult to see what will be really changed through declaring some of the following rounds as vehicles for awareness raising:

2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ (semi-finals)
2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa (quarter-finals)
2009 FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 (semi-finals)
2008 FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup Chile 2008 (semi-finals)
2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 (quarter-finals)

For example, the average attendance at the 2008 Women’s U20 semi finals was just over 14,000 and even the  official FIFA Match Reports do not reference the anti-discrimination status (though all 12 corporate sponsors get a name check).  Similarly, neither the official Tournament overview report or the narrative match reports on the Semi-finals day mention the anti-discrimination day.

But perhaps things have changed more recently? Alas, not. The 2011 FIFA day of Anti-Discrimination Day took place on semi-finals day at the Women’s World Cup in Germany this year. Disappointingly, the FIFA overview of the tournament makes no reference to this activity amongst the 60 or so news items showcased.  Similarly, the FIFA match reports  from semi-final day do not mention the Anti-discrimination aspect.  Now, this is not to say that there was no promotion of the status of the matches at the grounds, or elsewhere in FIFA management of either of these events. Nor is it evidence in itself that FIFA do not take discrimination seriously, even less does it suggest that individuals within FIFA do not take the initiative seriously. What it does suggest is that if Anti-discrimination days are to have credibility then they need to have more enduring visibility. Such promotion as there was appears to have left no legacy, whatever happened locally on the day has, seemingly, not engaged a larger audience or registered significantly within FIFA itself.

In fairness, in an in-house interview with Sepp Blatter during the semi-finals, strong reaffirmations were made around FIFA’s commitment to opposing discrimination. However, in answer to the question ‘What can FIFA do in the future to tackle discrimination?’ the response from Sepp Blatter was essentially ‘Education’.  Now, no-one, surely, would want to argue against education of future generations of player and fans as being a necessary part of any serious attempt to tackle discrimination of any kind at every level. However, there appears to be no serious role in FIFA’s stance for challenging current practices of discrimination or reforming existing structures.  Without such real and urgent interventions the inevitable outcome will be slightly more tolerant youngsters populating enduringly discriminatory cultures. FIFA cannot do everything and they most surely did not create racism or other forms of discrimination in society, but they occupy a unique position within the sport and their responsibility cannot be reduced to facilitating exclusively educational interventions.  FIFA’s other initiative in this area Football for Hope, also seeks to look to the future. As commendable as it is we need to ask some critical questions.  FIFA is the world authority for the sport – what is it they want young people to hope for?  That the world body finds the resolve to reform the very game for which it is the sole global regulator?

Of course all the FIFA statements and stances are difficult to take seriously when Blatter himself, dealing with questions directly without the shield of remote publication, makes such unacceptable remarks about sexual orientation and gender. But understanding FIFA is more than deciding whether Blatter himself is serious about discrimination, or understands it.  Disappointingly and perhaps surprisingly global corporate sponsors appear unable to go beyond initial statements of concern and commitments to monitoring the FIFA situation.  This is despite such issues being dealt with swiftly in the US where many FIFA sponsors are registered.  Yet again however we need to be careful in looking to mobilise corporations to shape sporting bodies’ behaviours, while boycotting and problematising sponsorship often has a role, in extremis it degenerates into a potentially dangerous form of privatisation of accountability.

UEFA have already indicated what looks like a more direct approach to managing discrimination at Euro 2012. This builds on an interesting initiative from 2009 when Poland/Ukraine were awarded the tournament involving an anti-racist Eastern European Monitoring Centre. It is difficult to assess the work that has been carried out under its auspices, and in some respects any final assessment needs to be deferred until after the tournament, but this does seem like an initiative with a different and promising agenda.

Surveillance Technology as Intervention: HeadCams for Stewards 

This week we hear of Tottenham Hotspurs taking a more interventionist approach to tackling homophobia and racism at White Hart Lane with reports that stewards will be wearing headcams to identify spectators making homophobic or racist chants with effect from 22 December 2011. This is not an isolated measure, Spurs have already implemented a texting notification service in place for fans to report inappropriate behavior. As stated on the club’s website “We do not tolerate discrimination of any sort at the club, on the pitch or in the stands.”  By any reasonable measure the ‘zero-tolerance’ orientation of Spurs is to be welcomed. And yet the further utilization of surveillance technology in a leisure context raises questions about governance and legitimacy of  such interventions. What kind of concessions to new boundaries of observation are wrought from those who come to watch and do not abuse and never had any intention of doing so? Whatever the benefits – and many argue there are benefits – of such monitoring, they further legitimise the authority of private companies, as football clubs are, to monitor and judge citizen behaviour, in the context of a further blurring of the role of consumer, spectator and citizen. What price is worth paying? Who owns the benefits?

Legislation As Intervention: The Scottish Anti-Bigotry Act

In Scotland,  the SNP majority government’s rather inelegantly entitled ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications’ Bill was passed by 64 votes to 57 this month in the face of widespread opposition.  Some have argued that existing legislation was sufficient, others not and others that in any event it was important to sharpen the focus of the legal position and ensure prosecutions could be easier to realise. Others, principally in the SNP itself, argue that the Bill does not go far enough. The Bill covers not only behaviour at football grounds but in pubs where games are being watched an on social media.   The Bill does not however cover watching football in private houses, even if a group of fans are present. Scottish newspapers published the next day a list of key points on what the Bill would and would not mean for the average fan. In particular a list of songs likely to be construed as offensive was published by the Daily Record.  Critics make the point that interpretations as to whether any particular instance of chanting or singing would be construed as potentially offensive would, inevitably, need to be left to police officers in situ.

Again the Bill is not an action in isolation. There is ample evidence of a range of political parties in Scotland tackling sectarian abuse over several years and across administrations.  However, the empirical evidence on bigotry in everyday life is arguably uncertain. Steve Bruce, Professor of Sociology at Aberdeen University has argued that “Scotland’s disgrace is not religious bigotry. It is the unthinking way in which sectarianism is assumed.” Referencing a 2001 survey Bruce suggests 1% of those surveyed thought they had been victimised because of their religion. More recently however strong claims have been made that Old Firm games lead to a significant upswing in domestic violence. 

What next?

This is a complex area and there is no attempt here to offer even preliminary proposals, but we can try to identify what might usefully be reflected upon.  Clearly, there are several types of complexities around assessing interventions in response to individual and collective discriminatory behaviours.    Potentially, interventions can be hijacked, have significant debits on civil freedoms and can place a burden on law enforcement which is neither manageable or welcome, and therefore unsustainable.   The evidence base for both the need for such interventions and their effectiveness can be uncertain and is often contested. A wide range of influential stakeholders can be mobilised including journalists, players, schools, politicians and clubs themselves. And indeed beyond that corporate sponsors, international associations and governments. But such mobilisations hinge on multiple and potentially contradictory motivations under a fragile and instrumental alliance. It is too trite to say that cradle-to-grave arrangements are necessary – that still leaves a lot of ground to be mapped out. However, it does seem that a combination of education, contractualisation and legislation is likely to work better than any one approach alone.

  • Education has to be about discrimination in general and not just discrimination in football.
  • Contractualisation, as a form of financial normalization has to be about mainstreaming challenge and compliance in contracts including players, managers and media contracts, because that’s what drives football as a business.
  • Legislation has to be about specific behaviours as far as possible because that is what causes offence and is provocative.

Beyond this there is surely a debate to be had on the forms of justice to be applied to offenders. What kind of community and restorative justice options might be explored here? In terms of challenge, authorities need to grasp the nettle. There are basic questions to be asked of youngsters and others at ‘awareness raising’ days: Why are fans chanting racist slogans despite knowing they are offensive and illegal? Why do so few gay footballers want to be open about their sexuality? One way of opening up that aspect up is to reconstruct the perfunctory ‘Fair Play’ initiatives. Ask young players why professionals sometimes play unfairly. They know why. We are also going to have to recognise that for too many young people, racism, sectarianism and homophobia are not some ‘other’ territories to be navigated around. In some cases they are already inside such discourses, and too often mouthpieces for them. This is not of their own making but it cannot be ignored for that reason.

We have come a long way over the years in recognising the complexity of intervention, and for that matter, non-intervention.  The current positive focus on anti-discriminatory initiatives is obviously to be welcomed but we have got to think carefully about what criteria for judging such initiatives are appropriate.

We have, at least, come a long way too from racist chants at the national stadium, against one of the most talented players of his generation, being spun by the national broadcaster as “good-natured ribbing”.