The choice delusion (1 of 2)

November 18, 2010

We have now heard from both vice-chancellors who served on the Browne Review committee. Aston University's Julia King reassured us of the panel's "independence", but also revealed that it took full account of the government's retrenchment agenda ("King: Browne no whitewash", 28 October). When the cadres fully internalise the ideology, of course, the government need not interfere directly: the apparatchiks will "independently" deliver whatever is convenient for its ideological stance.

And now the University of Birmingham's David Eastwood defends Browne in terms of its "genuine" student-choice agenda ("Who's afraid of student choice?", 11 November). Not too genuine, of course: the market has to be rigged in case students inadvertently jeopardise engineering departments by flocking instead to English. For Eastwood, Browne will sustain the "essence" of the university, an "essence" reduced to crude financial calculations. The university is now to be merely reactive to market whimsy.

Perhaps the worst thing about Browne is not the parochial pusillanimity that drives its dogmatic proposals, but rather the fact that two vice-chancellors can endorse this barbaric attack on the future life chances of generations of people, while claiming "independent" care for the soul of the university.

Independence means at least the possibility of oppositional critique; and the essence of a university far exceeds this casual reduction of social, creative and economic freedoms to rigged and dogmatically driven "choice".

Thomas Docherty, Professor of English and comparative literature, University of Warwick.

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