Pull research back from brink 1

May 31, 2002

Wendy Piatt's contribution to the tuition-fee debate (Soapbox, THES , May 24) left me asking: what do they research at the Institute for Public Policy Research? Not economics and logic. But Piatt did prompt a thought about a new-style research assessment exercise.

The model is straightforward. Institutions submit research income in the subjects they offer after deducting government-sourced income. No taxpayer's loot can count. To reduce the shock, genuinely private tuition fees can be added. These sums are set against expenditure on each subject.

Some may say this model would fail to show the true output and range of research in universities. But to reject an assessment because it shares one feature with the present model is churlish. My model reveals that higher education is not a business.

Like the police, health services and primary, secondary and tertiary education, the necessary range of subjects and the distribution of the likely beneficiaries is so great that no sensible entrepreneur would tackle the whole. Subsidy on a massive scale is necessary.

The findings are the same for the accounts of higher education institutions. Lack of adequate subsidy has led many to the brink of bankruptcy, financial and soon intellectual.

It is not the role of higher education to tax the rich or to tax in advance those who might become richer than the schoolteacher or the university lecturer. Neither is equality served by pricing financially challenged students out of certain professions - saving Piatt's few charity cases. There should be no barrier between the able student and the study that will benefit her and the society she will then serve - or be heavily taxed by - or both.

Andrew J. Morgan

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