Classified targets

November 20, 2008

John Holford's article "There is a wider purpose for universities than 'serving the economy'" (13 November) rightly draws critical attention to the Government's compression of the definition of higher education users to an increasingly narrow band within the spectrum of stakeholders - excluding staff representatives while including employer representatives in its "consultation group".

The approach is more worrying when considered alongside the comment by Christine King, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University, in the same issue on the Government's review of the part-time student sector, that "the extent of demand remains uncertain" for "higher education qualifications that are co-funded by employers".

Could the answer be right under our noses, among employers in one of the UK's world-class sectors - military armaments? After all, the co-chair of the consultation group, Sir John Chisholm, is executive chair of QinetiQ, a defence development company whose labours are reportedly 80 per cent "secret squirrel" work for the Ministry of Defence, so secret it is not open to commercial application.

There are worrying signs of the increasing militarisation of UK universities via secret and secretive contracting and partnership arrangements. Such narrow "consultation" exercises as those Holford highlights do not serve to allay legitimate fears within academia of what may happen to free debate and the flow of information within a higher education sector potentially increasingly co-funded under such circumstances.

Roger Rees, The Open University (in a personal capacity).

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