Public-private balance

September 16, 2010

There is clear concern in the views expressed by Lord Baker ("The Queen's shilling is no sovereign remedy for a world-class sector", 9 September). Universities need both state support and autonomy: only balance between the two allows the sector to thrive.

This is not the first time that the importance of this dynamic balance has been recognised. Almost a century ago, the University Grants Committee (UGC) was established as a buffer between the Treasury and the academy to preserve and manage that limited autonomy and to oversee growing state aid. It was thus not the Exchequer that decided how much each university should receive from the public purse but the UGC, led by members of the academy.

The UGC was created in 1919 in light of the earlier agreement between Andrew Bonar Law, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a delegation from 31 universities and H.A.L. Fisher, president of the Board of Education. That was the occasion, under a Liberal coalition government, when the necessity of state assistance together with "the great value of preserving university autonomy" was recognised. It became the hallmark for university provision and the allocation of state funding to the sector for as long as the UGC functioned.

Christine Humfrey, Special professor international higher education, University of Nottingham Visiting Fellow, Edge Hill University.

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