Faith, hope and clarity 1

July 16, 2009

Those privileged to hear Ron Barnett's plenary address at the Higher Education Academy conference will probably be wondering what's in store for the universities of the future ("Selfish models lose social touch", 9 July). "Have hope" was his key message: universities are constantly reinventing themselves, and their destiny to a significant degree is in their own hands; one day, a "metaphysical" university that reincarnates the best traditions of western higher education in a global context will emerge.

Maybe, I mused, but constant reinvention also means having the freedom to make bad decisions that shape bad futures. It's easy to see how the idea of the metaphysical university is already being ground into the dust by the boots of ministers, entrepreneurs and bureaucrats. When the chief Conservative contribution to the higher education debate is a Policy Exchange document called Sink or Swim?, many of us suspect that if hope is all we've got, it's barely worth having.

David Roberts, John Henry Newman Chair, Newman University College.

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