I’m working to a deadline I should have reached last week. I never get things started until the last minute. So I’m re-drafting a new version of an earlier essay I wrote, hoping to submit it for journal publication sometime over Christmas. And I’m doing this against the backdrop of protest, anger, frustration and fear as the UK government has voted tonight to increase university tuition fees to £9,000 per year. It’s not just that though; my area, the arts and humanities, is expecting a 70%+ reduction in funding across the board — not just at my university, at ALL universities — and a massive cut in funding for staff. That’s for staff wages. Not just their holiday pay or their sabbatical leave or their research grants, that’s for it all. And so I’m finishing an article to submit to a journal — all part of what is expected when you’re a doctoral student, in preparation for an excellent publishing record ahead of job hunting — and I’m looking forward to the 3 years of research and writing ahead of me, and I realise I’m working — granted, on something I love — with near to zero prospects of being able to use my PhD in any meaningful way when I’m done. We’re told that students should pay more because when they graduate they’ll earn more. Not if the jobs have been taken away as well.
So I’m working for no work. It’s a bleak prospect. No doctoral student would embark on a PhD unless they were motivated by something other than money, but the prospect of nothing at the end of it, possible financial ruin, no outlet for continuing to be an expert in your field and contributing to knowledge and culture — that’s bleak. And it’s not just bleak for me. It’s not just bleak for my fellow postgraduates and undergraduates and soon-to-be (or never-to-be) undergraduates. It’s bleak for the entire country and for the future of knowledge.