When Big Business Rules Universities

BLAIR WANTS to charge students more for their education. He also wants to see more money going into universities from private business to make up the shortfall of years of public under-investment.

Jon Dale

Private industry’s record of investment is pretty dismal, but if the bosses can be persuaded to put money into universities, what return will they expect for their money?

In the USA, scientists at the University of North Carolina started research into the environmental effects of industrial pig farming. Local papers had exposed massive pollution from farms where 5,000 or more pigs were packed into close quarters with little or no provision for disposal of their waste.

Workers and surrounding communities were exposed to dusts, toxic gases and awful smells from the “lagoons” containing the waste, which were then spread over nearby fields.

The environmental scientists found that ample research was being done on how to grow pigs faster and cheaper, but none on the health and environmental effects of the farming practices.

Lawyers acting for the Pork Council demanded the names of local residents who were co-operating with the research. The lawyers warned the University and researchers they could be prosecuted for theft of public property if they withheld the research data, and that they could be prosecuted for defamation. An agreement was eventually reached with the University lawyers where the research data was handed over but with names removed.

One of the scientists commented that the university doesn’t want “to make waves” with the state legislature, which sets the university budget. Campaign contributions to the big business parties help decide who gets elected to the legislature.

And the “swine industry makes campaign contributions”. Another North Carolina scientist commented “Scientific societies have done very little to help scientists against industry intimidation.”

So this is the ‘modernisation’ that Blair thinks so vital. Will British industries finance universities conducting research that threatens their commercial interests?