Spirit of 1970 lives on

May 2, 2003

As organiser of the Warwick Spring 1970 workshop, I read Ivor Gaber's report ("Middle-class posturing or a victorious fight for real changes?", THES , April 18) with interest. While discussion did revolve around sit-ins for a student union building, another theme was how business involvement in running the university had threatened academic freedom. Many at the workshop said they had not taken part in the student's initial protests, but joined only after the discovery of letters suggesting improper activities by business interests.

The debate on academic freedom was not purely historical. Participants drew parallels with higher education today and its narrow Gradgrind utilitarianism. Recent reports have supported this view. Wyn Grant and his politics colleagues have indicated serious issues in their field over research funding. Delegates to the European University Association warned that government policies were restricting research to prestige institutions, thus limiting academic freedom and the ability to explore new ideas.

It is equally disturbing that Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, warned ("Deliver 'quality people', demands CBI chief", THES , April 18) that unless universities provided the business-oriented graduates his members demanded, the business world would recruit overseas graduates. Such an attitude is surely not conducive to a healthy intellectual climate.

Discussion of events 33 years ago thus had a very contemporary edge.

Research funding, business domination of teaching and learning, and the wider issues of critical evaluation of business and government were central themes of the workshop. Let us hope this is a springboard to further debate.

Trevor Fisher
Warwick Spring Workshop

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