Elitist pipe dream (2 of 3)

January 27, 2011

Two articles last week - your interview with David Colquhoun and the news story "How the mighty have fallen: impact pilot's unexpected results" - tell contradictory stories.

Colquhoun suggests that post-1992 universities should offer only US-style general degrees because "there are simply not enough good researchers to teach half the population" to honours level. It is bad enough that we have a government that bases higher education policy on prejudice rather than evidence without distinguished academics repeating the error.

First, there can be no such thing as a university education if academic staff are not actively engaged in research and research-led teaching. Second, why should such an education not be available to everyone? Colquhoun parochially refers to science, but he is quite wrong where the arts, humanities and social sciences are concerned. As the impact pilot shows, world-leading research is demonstrably produced by staff in post-1992s. These academics could easily work in "elite" universities if they wished, but have chosen a greater mission: social inclusion.

The new universities are engaged in a social process that their critics cannot begin to understand. Their transformation of the life chances of entire ethnic and class groups is perhaps as significant to British society today as the founding of the NHS was in 1945. The democratisation of higher education is not something to be wished away lightly.

The discourse of "research concentration" should be resisted. It is just another attempt to divide and master a sector that is seemingly all too willing to embrace its own erosion.

Professor Martin McQuillan (Dean of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University) and Simon Morgan Wortham, Catherine Malabou, Howard Caygill, Peter Osborne, Peter Hallward, Eric Alliez, Stella Sanford, Fred Botting, Scott Wilson, Patricia Phillipy, John Mullarkey, Ian Brown and Matthew Pateman (all Kingston University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences).

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