Letter: Debased mettle

June 8, 2001

Our ordered state of higher education, where a university is a university is a university, is again threatened.

The characteristics of UK universities are defined in every university charter. These traits include a generality of provision and a centre of gravity in the "higher" part of our national systems of teaching, research and scholarship. The barriers for entry to the university club are set high; its membership nulli secundus .

In a UK where "shape-shifting" is changing the very structure of our nation-states, we should not be surprised that the shape of our university system is being moulded to accept new members with different value systems. However mesmerising we find the political environment, any re-engineering of the words "UK university" must be challenged.

The UfI has its centre of gravity fixed firmly in further education. However much it is shape-shifted, it is not a University for Industry and we should not call it a university. We are promised a University of the National Health Service, and I have even heard talk of a University of the Inland Revenue.

The high value the world places on a UK university education validates the paradigm of "university-ness". In many ways the university is a benchmark of civilisation. We should not give away lightly or by default the prevailing proposition of a "university" just because there is mileage to be gained by embedding lower utilitarian aims and values.

Higher education itself must engage, debate and develop an opinion on any bastardisation of the title university, for we all lose if the mettle of higher education is further debased.

Geoff Ward
Hertfordshire

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