Dearing's channel crossing

April 17, 1998

AFTER spending six years looking at the strategic management of internationalisation within UK higher education for a part-time PhD, I first read Lord Dearing's thoughts ("Dearing goes abroad", THES, April 10) with interest, then with growing anger and finally despair. They are filled with so much flabby thinking as to make grown men weep. If Dearing was an undergraduate writing an essay on the subject he would have been failed spectacularly.

His arguments are a pale imitation of those expounded in the Grubb Institute's 1978 report Freedom to Study. Then there is an Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development study, running since 1991, and the European Commission's European Credit Transfer Scheme to identify equivalence between programmes of study.

If Lord Dearing is impressed by a self-selecting club such as Universitas 21, then what might he make of much larger and less exclusive bodies such as the Conference of European Rectors or the European Association of International Education, which similarly link universities, but of which he makes no mention?

His statement that in Europe, institutions have a couple of decades of collaboration beggars belief. What of the several hundreds of years when mobility across Europe was an essential part of any scholar's life? That entrepreneurial activities by British universities have expanded is not due to these historical ideals of a global community of scholars or the pursuit of knowledge but the desire to increase income at all or any cost.

As regards the wish to attract students from abroad, Britain shot itself in the foot in 1979 when the Conservative Party introduced full-fees for overseas students - an act in which the universities acquiesced in self-interest - thereby setting a precedent for the introduction of full fees for home students. Britain is in such a mess precisely because it has no - and never has had - a strategy for internationalising its higher education system. Dearing's belief that Britain has a competitive advantage is pure fantasy when non-English countries as diverse as the Netherlands and Finland offer courses taught entirely in English.

That companies seek partnerships with universities is also a myth. Telecommunications firm, Ericsson, spends more on research than the entire Swedish higher education system (in all disciplines) which hardly makes for partnership in any meaningful sense. Universities neither have the intellectual or physical capacity to compete with commercial, highly-focused organisations with a very different purpose.

Romuald E J Rudzki, Department of education, University of Newcastle

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