State actor still best for accountability role (1 of 2)

November 1, 2012

Geoffrey Alderman appears to argue that the state has no right to seek to regulate in any way universities that receive public funding for student education or research (Letters, 25 October).

I agree with him that the central role of the university is to pursue and disseminate truth. But the state surely has the right - and indeed the duty, given the sums involved - to try to see that the money is properly spent (how that is done, and how far it relies on the judgement and integrity of the academic community in the process, is another matter).

Beyond that, any society has to ensure that its university system delivers a broad range and balance of both private and public goods. Unfortunately, there is no entity other than the state that can do this (although whether that should be the executive rather than the legislature is arguable). In fact, the lack of accountability to any state authority on the part of Ivy League and other major private institutions is a root cause of the present malaise in US higher education, as I and Howard Hotson, professor of early modern intellectual history at the University of Oxford, have written.

Roger Brown, Professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University

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