Two brains, both wrong

March 8, 2012

David Willetts disagrees with Stefan Collini that the government lacks an understanding of the public value of the university ("A mistaken conception that the university system is under attack", 1 March). He gives as evidence the fact that a substantial level of taxpayer support for teaching will continue.

With respect, minister, this is being "economical with the truth". In considering the public benefits of a university system, it is not only the level of state funding that needs to be considered but also the route by which it reaches institutions. It is clear to those who have studied such systems that because of the substantial information problems inherent in the notion of a higher education "market", provision determined chiefly by the wishes of large numbers of students is unlikely to meet their long-term needs, or society's as a whole, as effectively as where resource allocation is decided by a mixture of government and government agencies, institutions and external stakeholders such as students, employers and professional bodies (broadly speaking, the existing system). The government indeed accepts this in respect of certain subjects and categories of provision where some direct grants will continue.

The shift to what is effectively a voucher system, where most state support for teaching goes through support for the student fee, represents a decisive turn away from the notion of higher education as fulfilling wider social purposes towards it being a private good. Collini is right, and no amount of ministerial weasel words can disguise it.

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

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study