Carrot or stick?

October 20, 2016

A leitmotif of current higher education debate is the tension between public and private good (“Public higher education ‘dying in the US’, warns Robert Reich”, News, 27 September). Governmental policy misses the point when it seeks to incentivise public benefit through schemes that offer private rewards.

One example is the recent Green Paper, Schools that Work for Everyone. The paper proposes that universities should support state schools and be rewarded through eligibility to charge higher tuition fees.

For some universities, neither the carrot nor the stick is likely to incentivise engagement in the schools agenda. Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, was quoted recently as saying that running schools would be a “distraction”.

For others, however, with different foundations and missions, there is no need for carrots or sticks. Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor and principal at the University of Birmingham, gets to the heart of the matter in his recent communication to vice-chancellors when he states that the “measures” proposed by the Department for Education to get universities more closely involved in state schooling are “unnecessary because getting involved with free schools and academies is an opportunity that, with the right values, ideas and support, universities can embrace and lead positively rather than being forced against their will”.

An appeal to the founding commitment of many of our universities to delivering public benefit in its many guises would be more effective in mobilising change than carrots and sticks.

Alison Kennell
University secretary
York St John University

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