We want money without mafia 1

June 21, 2002

Gordon Graham's diagnosis of what ails higher education - political indifference to education beyond its immediate economic and social engineering potential (Soapbox, THES , June 14) - is correct, but the fee prescription only pulls universities further into the commercial mire.

Many Universities UK leaders have succumbed, and our "management teams" have already taken the Queen's new shilling. They busily dismiss any activity that is not "an earner", which leads to the demise of pure research and the closure of "unfashionable" departments.

If we move to a differential fee-income stream, we will exacerbate internal divisions. One department will claim that it alone sustains the university and that its hard-earned money is being wasted supporting "unsuccessful" studies.

If anyone has doubted Graham's claim about the loss of autonomy and the invidious tertiary annexation of university studies as merely higher further education, quotes from the imperious Welsh Assembly's remit letter to the Welsh Funding Council should dispel the fog. It was told: "You should require higher education institutions to produce proposals for working in closer collaboration to cut their overhead costs and improve their competitiveness" and "Higher education institutions need to be aware of skill shortages in the economy, adjusting the number and type of courses that they offer accordingly".

The answer is not to seek the politicians' permission to corrupt the university further, but to remind the temporary incumbents of ministerial offices that universities are about research, learning and knowledge and their autonomy of governance exists to protect this agenda. We seek to educate and train those who can apply the necessary critical capacity, whoever they are and whatever the size of their parents' pockets. The government pretends that this is its aim while refusing the funds necessary to accomplish its "democratic" ideal.

The trick is to gain Graham's "protection money" without joining the political mafia. That requires the courage of our convictions, not sycophantically embracing those of the incumbent government party.

Andrew Morgan
Swansea

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