Market policies too extreme, Blair guru warns

October 16, 2011

A former director of the London School of Economics has used a House of Lords debate to attack the government’s higher education policies, saying they risk “chaotic consequences” including the closure of universities.

Labour peer Lord Giddens, who brought the debate on 13 October entitled Universities: Impact of Government Policy, said ministers appeared to be pursuing policies of “ill-considered, untutored radicalism” that were not based in proper research and had “imponderable outcomes”.

The academic, who advised former prime minister Tony Blair and is professor of sociology at LSE, said the reforms would leave England as a “global outrider” with one of the lowest levels of public support for higher education in the industrialised world.

He said the “ideological thrust” of the Browne Review should have been rejected and instead tuition fees only gradually raised alongside the maintenance of direct public support for universities, due to their “massive” beneficial impact on society.

“Universities are not a sort of supermarket where education can be chosen like a washing powder off the shelf. Students are not simply consumers, making day-to-day purchasing decisions. They will make a one-off decision,” he said.

“The whole apparatus of a marketplace in which you have consumer-led enterprise seems alien to what universities are and should be about.”

He also said the impact of the immigration cap looked to be “seriously damaging” to universities, not just in terms of student recruitment but also “by denying the country the very creativity and academic innovation that are the lifeblood of the university system”.

Meanwhile, the coalition government’s proposals to allow free competition for students with A-level grades of AAB and above received criticism from Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Brinton, who said the plans were a “surprising element” of the White Paper.

“It seems to me that this may have a law of unintended consequences, with the possibility of bidding wars, and a real impact on recruitment for some of the middle-ranking universities. I hope that I am wrong,” she said.

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