Uncertain future

April 3, 2008

Am I the only person who is reminded of Communist Russia and its five and ten-year plans when I read about the present Government's intention to plan for the next ten to 15 years of higher education?

If we have learnt nothing else from the Communist experiment, surely it must be that central planning doesn't work. What we are seeing here is Labour reverting to its old Labour philosophy, "predict and provide".

We cannot tell what will happen in five years, never mind ten or 15. We have no idea what global, climatic, economic, social, technological or demographic changes will occur. The best plan for higher education is to be in a position of low regulation and low central control, so that we are able to respond to whatever changes occur in the national and international arenas.

"Predict and provide" is no way to run a country. Central planning doesn't work in manufacturing or business, in housing or in health, nor in higher education. As Trotsky once said, the problem is that we are not God. We cannot know what the future will bring, or what people will want and need. Our predictions are so very often wrong.

Sadie Williams, Research fellow, Centre for the Study of Education and Training, Lancaster University.

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