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Education and social change in the era of radical opportunity and uncertainty

Education and social change in the era of radical opportunity and uncertainty

In an era of radical opportunity the labour and allied movement needs to be equipped with the ideas, strategy and skills to meet the challenges and opportunities emerging.

We live in an age of ‘radical uncertainty’. So says the associate editor of one of the most influential papers in Europe: (see Wolfgang Munchau: Politicians and investors adapt to the age of radical uncertainty, Financial Times, June 18 2017)

I totally agree. This is not just because I love reading the Financial Times and find it an indispensable tool for teaching and research (I do). Nor that I encourage all students to read it (I do). But because Munchau’s phrase captures the state of the UK and Europe as we approach nearly 10 years of austerity.

I would add that the age of austerity has created this age of radical uncertainty. But what else has it created? Well as my colleague, Dr Ed Rooksby, notes in his excellent general election blog  it has also created radical opportunities for the political and organisational left.

Is there an alternative?

Former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said ‘there is no alternative’ to free market capitalism. But as a student who is joining our new MA in Global Labour and Social Change said recently ‘Are we at the fag-end of neoliberalism?’. By that he meant are we nearing the end of a 40 year period of economic, political, social and cultural upheaval that started in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher. That continued through the governments of Tony Blair’s New Labour and has persisted under the last two governments. A period of privatisation and deregulation were, as the residents of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire have put it, poor people’s lives don’t matter and profit comes before people.  

Whatever is happening, for those critics of neoliberalism there are certainly new opportunities emerging. Almost weekly. And if the chants of ‘oh Jeremy Corbyn’ and his talk to tens of thousands at the Glastonbury festival are anything to go by, the sense of hope for change is seeping into popular culture already.

But an alternative will partly depend on what people do or don’t do. Particularly the elites and how other groups in society respond to them. We have already seen a moving and inspirational response to the outcome of what looks increasingly like deregulation and cost cutting to boost profits. That is the response of public sector workers and the working class communities in and around Grenfell Tower in Kensington and Chelsea. This raises a fascinating question: is a revamped public sector, with key services renationalised under democratic control, together with grassroots community organising, an alternative way of organising key parts of society? If so, what role could there be for the over 6 million trade union members and allied organisations?

When Jeremy Corbyn spoke to a packed audience at Ruskin College in November 2016 he stated that we must be prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. At the time many of the challenges were familiar but the opportunities were harder for many to grasp. What a difference the last 3 weeks have made to what passes for politics and the media in the UK.

This is why we think there has never been a better time to study on our new MA in Global Labour and Social Change.

Building on the success of our well-established MA in International Labour and Trade Unions we have rethought and revamped the MA precisely to take up some of the challenges Jeremy Corbyn alluded to.

The course approach and philosophy are centred on the role and place of labour and social movements nationally and internationally in the ongoing debate about social change. The immediate global context is one of economic and political crisis and austerity. The national context is Brexit, Corbynism and economic and wage stagnation. More longstanding are the challenges of movement organising in a rapidly changing and complex world of, not least fixed and floating workplaces and spaces in the digital age. Changing identities and in particular, what all of this means for women and gender relations and our relations with other organisations and movements.

But we won’t dodge the age old important political and strategic questions of ‘who are we, who are they and what can we do about it? So, just as the movement is being challenged, so will you be. We encourage students to think beyond the mainstream about new and creative ways of thinking and doing whilst reflecting on their own role and identity in this. A cornerstone of which is providing the space and support for you to develop and undertake your own key piece of research on an issue that matters to you.

Who should study the MA?

You don’t necessarily need a degree to apply. You take your life and any role you may have in the movement seriously and so do we. This is why we will consider applicants based on their experience. But don’t worry we offer lots of one-to-one support and with a blended online teaching and learning approach. Together with tutorials and day schools at Ruskin you won’t be alone!

From our experience of teaching and talking with students we understand that people like you are very busy and so we have introduced a number of flexible study options. You can study full time (1 day per week) or part-time (6 day schools at Ruskin in the first year). You can also study for a post-graduate certificate (PGCert) or a post-graduate diploma (PGDip) that could also be used for those involved in research and policy roles as part of their CPD.

The course will be of use to anybody who wants to develop their ideas and practical skills for use in social change both in the UK or elsewhere. It is often of specific interest to labour movement officers, organisers, activists and those working in the allied third sector in NGOs and community based organisations.

Why not come and join others like you and be at the forefront of thinking and strategising for the movement of the many.


Written by Dr Peter Dwyer Tutor in International Labour and Trade Union Studies and Social Science

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