Terminal rhetoric

November 14, 2013

“Universities, at the end of the day, are businesses.” (“Cap won’t fit for long: v-c predicts £20,000 UK fees”, News, 7 November.) How glibly that phrase issues from the lips of Nick Petford, vice-chancellor of the University of Northampton, and from those of so many of his colleagues. And how insidiously its steady drip, drip enters the political unconscious: I first heard the phrase stated as self-evident by a senior civil servant in the old Department for Education and Skills about 10 years ago. It was a moment of shocked awakening. Nowadays it passes unchallenged.

Yes, all organisations have to balance their books (except, it seems, banks and corporate finance firms), but that doesn’t make them businesses. To run a university as a business, with all the consequences thereon, is a choice (or, more likely, submission to the prevailing dogma).

And what a weaselly phrase “at the end of the day” is: at the end of the day, women can’t assume the same responsibilities as men; at the end of the day, people are paid what they are worth (and are worth what they are paid). How long before we hear: “Healthcare, at the end of the day, is a business”?

Careless talk costs lives.

Nicholas Till
School of Media, Film and Music
University of Sussex

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