common ground

Rockford/University Funding

Program 0212 March 19, 2002

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

Theresa Thomier: It’s not just about us anymore. Now it’s more as in like different countries around us.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, assessing world affairs attitudes. And Great Britain’s university funding crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I think it’s pretty much accepted that that’s what happens now. That you just get in debt.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The events of September 11 sparked a global war on terrorism. But do Americans really care about world affairs? Common Ground’s Drew Leifheit visited one Midwestern city to find out.

A WOMAN PRAYS: And Father, we thank you for Jesus. For without Jesus there would be no Christmas. And Father….

DREW LEIFHEIT: Surrounding a festively decorated dining room table, the members of a family in Rockford, Illinois, pray in preparation for a family celebration. Located about an hour and a half west of Chicago, Rockford is traditionally a manufacturing town with a population of 150,000. Sixty-five-year-old Ken Bachman is one of the people getting ready to eat. An engineer by trade, Bachman says that for the last 40 years he’s been focused on his work, not the rest of the world. Today, traveling around the Midwest for his job, Bachman believes world events have hit home.

KEN BACHMAN: After September 11 I’ve seen quite a bit of layoffs and scaling back of different corporations, whether they be automotive oriented or whatever. And it’s probably the worst I’ve seen in say the last 50 years. I’ve not seen this much unemployment that would directly affect, especially the Rockford area.

DANIEL KEMPTON: The sense that it’s only problems in your neighborhood that affects, I think is a very dated notion today.

LEIFHEIT: Daniel Kempton is a Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University. Kempton explains today the world is a much closer place in terms of trade, economics, and communication. And issues that affect countries in remote areas of the world indirectly affect the United States. He says the rest of the world is much more important than most Americans realize, especially in regard to the economy.

KEMPTON: Here, sitting in the Midwest in the United States we tend to think we’re rather isolated from the international economy. But in fact the US is the number one producer and exporter in the world of grains. And, in fact, without our foreign exports of grain, particularly corns and wheats and other products, lots of American farmers would be put out of business. And, in fact, our trade profile would look considerably different without that.

LEIFHEIT: Stanley Campbell is a Rockford resident who has been working for peace, social justice, and economic welfare here since coming home from the Vietnam War. He believes that September 11 also had another affect upon people living in northern Illinois.

STANLEY CAMPBELL: Rockford was very much caught up in the ‘90s, you know, “keep everything to yourself,” and not worrying about the rest of the world and making lots of money. And I think that it was jarred into acknowledging that there is something besides just working and making money and not thinking of anything else that’s going on.

LEIFHEIT: Founded predominately by white Europeans, Rockford is a typical Midwestern city. In the last decade or so however, it has become much more ethnically diverse, hosting a significant Hispanic population along with small, tightly knit groups of new Bosnian and Southeast Asian immigrants. But while Rockford’s melting pot may be made up of the world, that doesn’t necessarily mean its residents know it. Julie McKee runs an international translation service in the Rockford area which deals with clients from all over the world. She says that because the US is such a big country she thinks Americans, like those in the Midwest, are focused on what happens at home and tend to disregard the importance of the outside world.

JULIE MCKEE: It’s still very common for you to hear an American who overhears someone speaking a foreign language. The American will mutter, “You’re in my country. Learn my language.” Taking a very callous view of the fact that there are people that live in the United States who don’t speak English.

LEIFHEIT: McKee says that, in contrast, the international businesspeople she works with usually have much more open attitudes about language and culture. So does Noy Jackson’s American husband. Ms. Jackson is a Laotian woman who along with her family fled her country’s communist regime 20 years ago to settle in Rockford. Today, Jackson and her parents run an Asian food store and restaurant, providing a taste of home for the 100 or so Laotian families who live in Rockford. Ms. Jackson says most people, even her husband, have little idea about her homeland.

NOY JACKSON: A lot of them doesn’t know because when they ask me where I’m from, I say “Laos,” they’re like, “What is that?” I know it’s a small country. I have to say, “Oh, it’s right between Thailand and Vietnam.” And then, they’ll go “Oh, okay.”

LEIFHEIT: Ms. Jackson says her husband is now studying up on her homeland. Because September 11 reminded her of escaping from Laos, she believes it’s really important for Americans to know what’s going on in the rest of the world.

JACKSON: Laos is a Third World. I think it would help a lot if the United States can help Laos, you know. So they can have freedoms. So it would be very helpful if the United States know about Laos.

LEIFHEIT: Still, Ms. Jackson admits she doesn’t know what’s happening in her homeland because she doesn’t receive any news about it.

UNIDENTIFIED TELEVISION REPORTER: Most Americans believe the terrorist attacks changed this country. And that’s according to a new poll on American’s attitudes since September 11. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed believe…

LEIFHEIT: The news director of one of Rockford’s local TV stations, Margaret Hradecky, says that while Rockford is a big city it has a small town atmosphere, which is reflected in the content of local TV newscasts.

MARGARET HRADECKY: A lot of our research that we’ve done locally says that people want local news. And they really don’t turn to us to international news. And they really don’t have a hunger for it. I think it’s changed maybe just slightly with this. But to be honest people are more worried about what’s happening around here and within their own backyard than they are what’s happening overseas. They were more concerned about the anthrax scares than they were what was happening in Afghanistan. And, you know, the fact that we had hundreds and hundreds of soldiers there, you know, fighting, and, you know, that, that was put to the wayside once something happened on our own, on our own soil.

LEIFHEIT: Despite that, the news director says that covering the events of September 11 had a clear mandate and that she and her staff dug up information on the Internet, utilized local experts, and tried to give local context to the national and international happenings. Hradecky adds that affiliate stations don’t have the resources of a network to cover international stories.

News coverage may reflect popular attitudes about the world, according to pre-September 11 surveys. In 1999 Princeton Survey research polls showed that over three-quarters of Americans believed the US should focus upon domestic problems. But a post-September 11 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center may signal a big shift. Two-thirds of the polls’ respondents think America should take an active role in the world to avoid problems like terrorism. Still, the Pew report points out that the public now places lower priority upon other global maladies like hunger or the spread of AIDS. Northern Illinois University’s Daniel Kempton says he does think Americans are aware of international affairs at a basic level but they’re unaware of how they actually affect those issues.

KEMPTON: If you look at US responses to foreign policy problems many times that response does not occur until the problem hits the nightly news programs. That there can be a mass starvation in Somalia, but until we’ve seen it repeated for a week or so on NBC, ABC, Fox, CNN—a steady diet of showing us the problems—Americans don’t become involved in it. There’s no political pressure to get involved.

LEIFHEIT: And, Kempton says, because of America’s historic geographical isolation from global conflicts, along with peaceful relations with its neighbors, Americans have a cyclical attitude towards foreign policy.

KEMPTON: A problem would arise: the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor and we would dramatically get involved in world affairs, try and go out and solve the problem. Or World War I would arise. We’d go out, solve the problem. But when the wars were over—wars were sort of a crusade that was a one-time thing—you would go back to a peacetime setting which wasn’t vigilance and preparation. It was sort of massive disarmament. Demobilize this massive army we had after World War II. And then when the Soviet threat comes along, we build it back up. So we’ve had this sort of unique cyclical view of the world. We view politics as normal as peaceful. As sort of something we can ignore when we focus on the economic side of things, the everyday trade relationship.

LEIFHEIT: At the end of the Cold War, Kempton says that once again America was less concerned with the rest of the world’s problems. But the world had, in fact, become a more dangerous place. September 11 could, however, precipitate a big shift in such attitudes. Professor Kempton believes that the events of September 11 were enough of a scare to really shake up Americans and to make lots of people reassess the importance of foreign policy.

CHRIS BURD: What have they done? What, what have they conspired to do to the President of Egypt at that time?

ONE OF MR. BURD’S STUDENTS: Assassinate him.

BURD: Right. And so Anwar Sadat…

LEIFHEIT: In the second class period at Jefferson High School in Rockford, World Affairs teacher Chris Burd drills his students about events in the Middle East, connecting them with the present state of the world since last September.

BURD: …political career, but it ended it up, what ended up happening to him because he did that?

ONE OF MR. BURD’S STUDENTS: He tried to make peace.

BURD: He tried to make peace with who?


BURD: Israel. What…

LEIFHEIT: Burd has been exposing students to a variety of news sources and political points of view. One of his students is pouring through the texts of political theorist Norm Chomsky.

BURD: Initially we had the televisions on all over the school watching it, digesting the information. And then the second day the kids were kinda tired of it. They were more interested in the action and the actual event than they are in a lot of the political repercussions. It’s our job as social studies teachers, historians, sociologists, and psychology people, to—and economists as well—to teach the students or to foster an inquisition on their part about why these things occur. We have to get beyond the bare facts and look at the big picture.

LEIFHEIT: The teacher’s approach seems to be working on students like 16-year-old Theresa Thomier, who says post-September 11, the focus of the class has changed drastically.

Theresa Thomier: It’s not just about us anymore. Like before it happened it would be like, things that were going on in Rockford or around the state, you know. But now it’s more as in like different countries around us and the war and everything. We’ve talked about it more now than, than when it happened.

LEIFHEIT: Steve Brown is another student who believes the terrorist attacks could potentially change his generation.

STEVE BROWN: I think it’s also increased public awareness, because a lot of people our age don’t really watch the news or anything like that. But I’m sure now they do more often because they’re affected by it. One of the major things that’s wrong with our generation, I’d say, is that people don’t really care about what’s going on. And then some day they’re going to find out that they need to. So, if they start now then it’s going to be a lot easier for them in the long run.

LEIFHEIT: Activist Stanley Campbell says he now sees more interest in the rest of the world amongst adults in Rockford, too. As locals try to figure out what motivated the terrorists to commit their acts. Campbell and other activists are busy organizing discussions on topics like American support for Israel, the concerns of the Arab world—like why American troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia—and how oil interests affect politics in the Middle East.

CAMPBELL: We’ll try and educate Rockford about these issues. We’ll be happy if 40, 50 people come to these programs. But knowing that those people will at least share their information with other folks and maybe encourage a greater discussion in the local newspaper, on the local talk show, radio talk show, as a way of slowly changing how America feels about, about the rest of the world.

LEIFHEIT: Campbell says he will continue to encourage local people—he calls them “citizen-diplomats”—to go to places like the Middle East not just to foster American business interests, but also to cultivate peace. For Common Ground, I’m Drew Leifheit in Rockford, Illinois.

PORTER: The high cost of higher education in Great Britain, next on Common Ground.

TIM BOATSWAIN: The problem is that our funding is really based on the number of students that come into the institution on a head count. And if we under-recruit we clearly lose that money and that money is taken off us for the next year as well. So though we might be able to survive an under-recruitment for one year, we can’t survive the loss of that money for the next year. And what we’ve had to do is look at those areas and reduce our staffing in those areas.

MAX EASTERMAN: Do you feel its fair that you should have to work as well as study?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: No, no. I think if I’m in full-time education then that’s all I should be doing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I know people older than me who’ve been to university and they got a grant. And their three years were the best three years of their life and they just concentrated on their studies and finding out who they were. Coming to university really sort of develops who you are. And I think if you’re working and you’re worrying about money some of that is taken away from you.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MCHUGH: It’s a theme often heard in the United States: the cost of a college education is skyrocketing. Now, the same complaint is often heard in Great Britain.

PORTER: The British government used to pay most of the cost of a student’s college education. But so many students took advantage of the plan there soon wasn’t enough money to go around. British education grants are now becoming loans and that’s causing problems for students and colleges. Common Ground’s Max Easterman brings us up to date on a story we first shared with you last summer.

EASTERMAN: [speaking from inside a moving vehicle] Luton is an industrial town of about 200,000 people about 30 miles northwest of London. It’s home to a General Motors factory, a big medical research laboratory, and a thriving international airport. It also has one of the most academically successful of the new universities. It scored an “excellent” in quality assessment over the past six years. It’s top of the league for graduate employment. But last year it announced it was going to close its entire Humanities School and fire 55 teaching staff. So what’s gone wrong? I’m on my way to Luton University now to find out.

EASTERMAN: [now reporting from the campus] Unemployment is still low enough in Britain for students to conclude that a less-skilled and less-well-paid job now is a better bet than a large debt at the end of a university course. University recruitment is static. So here at Luton, they’ve begun what’s called “repositioning”: dropping academic courses, expanding vocational ones. Computing, sports science, and media will expand rapidly. English, history, politics will close. It’s responding to market forces, says, Tim Boatswain, the Provost Chancellor.

TIM BOATSWAIN: The problem is that our funding is really based on the number of students that come into the institution on a head count. And if we under-recruit we clearly lose that money and that money is taken off us for the next year as well. So though we might be able to survive an under-recruitment for one year, we can’t survive the loss of that money for the next year. And what we’ve had to do is look at those areas and reduce our staffing in those areas. So as I speak now there are colleagues under risk of redundancy.

EASTERMAN: How many?

BOATSWAIN: Fifty-five.

EASTERMAN: [Again reporting from a moving vehicle] Luton isn’t alone in having to make these hard decisions. As well as humanities, pure science, and engineering are becoming less and less popular in Britain. All in all 1,200 university teachers are being made redundant across the country. Their union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, isn’t convinced that repositioning is a good thing. It’s not only the job losses it’s worried about; it argues that closing down whole departments isn’t justified in the longer term. The union chairman here in Luton is Tony Dennis. I’m on my way to meet him now.

TONY DENNIS: The prediction student demand for particular subjects is always an inexact science. You never quite know what’s going to happen from one year to another. And it seems to us that departments are being closed down when it’s at least feasible that in a number of cases demand will rise again within the next few years. But, of course, the demand won’t be directed at Luton University because they’ll be no departments for students to enter. Now, it seems a particularly cruel blow that the university that had been built up with a great deal of effort is now being thrust back to being effectively a local technical college, in our view.

EASTERMAN: The problem at Luton and at many other universities in Britain is that the university cannot fund those departments. The Provost Chancellor, Tim Boatswain, says that if it hadn’t acted now, there’d have been even more jobs lost.

BOATSWAIN: The issue at the moment is that the funding mechanism is a short-term mechanism which depends on market forces: the number of students that come to your institution. And that’s fine as long as there is growth in the market and there are plenty of students. What’s happened this year is that the under-recruitment has been on such a scale that next year we would have had a serious deficit in funding if we’d not taken action.

EASTERMAN: You’d have been insolvent?

BOATSWAIN: We would have had difficulty in balancing our books. We’re not in a position to fund subject areas where we have very small numbers of students. The problem is that students, I think, are quite concerned about going into higher education when they could end up with a serious debt.

[sound of students talking in the background]

EASTERMAN: Debt is now a huge problem for British students. Many were unprepared for the amounts they’d have to borrow to cover their maintenance costs: on average 15,000—that’s $20,000, plus tuition fees of over $4,000. The culture in Britain is only slowly adjusting to this new situation where poorer students need to get well paid jobs to see themselves through. Employers are often wary of taking on people who need time free to study and sit exams. So many students then have serious difficulties. And the proof of that is here on the notice board in the student restaurant. Over 200 are threatened with exclusion for not paying their fees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I think it’s pretty much accepted that that’s what happens now. That you just get in debt.

EASTERMAN: How much debt are you running up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: Well, with my student loan I’m looking for about 12-13,000.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I don’t think I, I know any student who hasn’t taken out a student loan. I think most people when they leave will owe at least 10,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: It will be very difficult to see your way clear, even just living at a very frugal existence, if you were to just live off the loan. So I mean you really and truly, you’re forced into a situation where you have to take at least part-time work. Most people are working 20 to 30 hours. And they’re trying to fit their studies in as well and it’s obviously not an ideal situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: You’d definitely be working more than you’d be studying. That’s what I’ve found. And I think if I wasn’t working I’d spend more time on my studying and probably do a lot better than I am at the moment.

EASTERMAN: Do you feel its fair that you should have to work as well as study?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: No, no. I think if I’m in full-time education then that’s all I should be doing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I know people older than me who’ve been to university and they got a grant. And their three years were the best three years of their life and they just concentrated on their studies and finding out who they were. Coming to university really sort of develops who you are. And I think if you’re working and you’re worrying about money some of that is taken away from you, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: In a strange sort of way it’s creating a debt culture for the future. You come out of here. You’ve got debts and you were looking to buy a house, looking to settle down. You never get out of debt. The question is, what’s the point? You come to university to try and get a better life for yourself and you just end up in a trap.

EASTERMAN: Students who can’t pay their fees add to the university’s cash flow problems: over this last year to the tune of several million dollars at Luton. And the specter of debt or being thrown out for not paying fees damages the university’s image. Steve Kendall, Luten’s Director of Student Recruitment, says it also damaging their ability to fulfill the government’s policy of recruiting students from social groups not traditionally involved in higher education.

STEVE KENDALL: We have found things more difficult in the last couple of years. And we do attribute a great deal of that to the introduction of the tuition fees. Because we think that the students that we’re trying to reach find it more difficult to get over the financial hurdle. There are traditions among working class people which are against getting into debt unless you are very clear about how it’s going to be settled. Within certain Asian communities debt would be seen as a, as a failure of self reliance, rather than a normal means of financing things. So I think there will be communities who are more deterred from taking part.

EASTERMAN: There are going to be other problems of adjustment at the academic level as universities reposition themselves to be more vocational in what they teach. Professor Alan Smithers runs the Center for Educational and Employment Research at Liverpool University. Government, says Professor Smithers, must change the funding mechanism so that it reflects the country’s long-term needs, not what students or universities or a particular industry happens to want now.

ALAN SMITHERS: We have to look at the situation in the United States, which operates a very successful mass higher education system. That means, I think, allowing universities to price their courses in relation to their particular demand. And then I think the state support for higher education will have to come in terms of buying a certain proportion of those places for subjects that it wants represented for particular groups of students, that it wants to see in the higher education system. But I think ultimately the higher education has be freed up so that it can attract its own income.

EASTERMAN: [Reporting from inside a vehicle] The Director of Recruitment at Luton, Steve Kendall, agrees that the funding mechanisms can’t go on in their present form. Nor, he says, can the academic timetable. If Britain is to shift nearer to the US model, then universities have to think seriously about how and when they teach so that students can balance the needs of studying and earning a living.

STEVE KENDALL: We’ve gone through a rapid transition from a situation where higher education is effectively free at the point of use, to one where it is a paid for and consumed service. And whereas in the past I think we might have been able to say in a rather lordly way, “We come first,” I think realistically we know now that we are one of two equally compelling imperatives on the student and that we are not going to be able to sustain the student with us unless the student can keep body and soul together through working. And I think that challenges the kinds of academic structures which the universities have in place. And one effect of this will be to move us away from the three-year, full-time undergraduate program, to something which looks more like the North American experience.

EASTERMAN: That is certainly what the government wants: a more flexible, self-financing system. Whether it will get it is another matter. The new federal structure in Britain looks set to undermine the project. The Scottish Parliament has scrapped tuition fees; the Welsh Assembly is going to follow suit. This has created the impossible situation that Scottish students at English universities get their fees paid, whilst English students at Scottish universities don’t. The government has now accepted that the student loan system is too unpopular to continue. It brought out plans for a move to a graduate tax—an extra income tax payable over a graduate’s working life. This also elicited howls of anger from the majority of students. So that’s been dropped and the government’s thinking again. It hasn’t too much time to decide what to do if it wants to meet its target of half of 18-to-30-year-olds in higher education by the year 2020. A rock and a hard place. For Common Ground, this is Max Easterman at the University of Luton.

MCHUGH: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0212. That’s Program Number 02-12. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That’s 563-264-1500.

PORTER: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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