Dearing under fire from dons

February 20, 1998

The position of this autumn's university applicants is confused by the legal and political situation on fees

"SUPERFICIAL", "cavalier" and "ignorance" are just three words applied to the Dearing report in a highly critical commentary published this week on the eve of publication of the government's own response to the report.

A special edition of the Higher Education Quarterly, published on Tuesday, calls Dearing's Higher Education in the Learning Society report, issued last July, a missed opportunity and says it lacks vision.

Academic contributors say the central weakness is the report's superficiality: "Dearing considers the many facets of higher education from every possible angle, every interest group has its few lines I but the report barely probes beneath the surface.

"The report lacks the kind of fundamental analysis which its broad conclusions require. Despite the mass of evidence gathered ... the report shows a shocking ignorance about how universities actually work."

Contributors argue that the fundamental issue of expansion is "fudged". They say Sir Ron failed to explore how expansion beyond 30 per cent of school-leavers is to be achieved and funded.

David Watson, director of Brighton University and a member of the Dearing committee, said: "What the critics mean is that the report lacks their sectional vision or failed fully to be impressed by their arguments. Far from being a neo-Thatcherite, centralising tract, which for their more populist purposes some of the Higher Education Quarterly authors would like it to be, the Dearing report ... is all about the conditions under which institutional and sectoral autonomy can be preserved and strengthened."

Contributors included Leslie Wagner, principal of Leeds Metropolitan University, Michael Shattock, registrar at Warwick, and Ron Barnett, of the Institute of Education.

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