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Program 0212
March 19, 2002

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.


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

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
’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.


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

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.


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

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

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.

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?

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?

He tried to make peace.

BURD: He tried to make peace with


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

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
, I’m Drew Leifheit in Rockford, Illinois.

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

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?

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

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.

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

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.

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?

Well, with my student loan I’m looking for about £12-13,000.

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.


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.


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?

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

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.


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.

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