Leader: Will Clarke really be the champion of academe?

May 30, 2003

Charles Clarke wishes it to be known that there is no witch-hunt for academic seekers after the truth, medieval or otherwise. Obviously stung by allegations of philistinism after THES reports of his speech at University College Worcester, he insists that he will defend blue-skies research and champion new areas of study without a clear economic justification. But universities will have to justify themselves when the next spending negotiations come around.

As a statement of principle, there is little to argue with. The question is whether it accords with ministerial practice. Too often it seems that the government is content for universities to manage themselves - as long as they do what Whitehall wants. There will be a market in fees, for example, so long as only the intended universities use it; the best research will be funded, but not all institutions will be allowed to make submissions.

Beyond the mantra of diversity, it remains unclear how Mr Clarke's vision of higher education will develop.

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