Mediocrity revisited

August 15, 1997

THE Dearing report was a big disappointment. It had nothing of substance to recommend about either the structure or content of higher education. Its only significant recommendation was to impose a substantial part of the cost upon students and their families. Did Dearing and his colleagues not look at the consequence of the proliferation of student loans in the United States? This had the effect of landing most students heavily in debt on graduation, which in turn forced graduates to do business and law degrees rather than take PhDs or risk careers as writers and artists. The result is too many lawyers and MBAs and neglect of the creative and intellectual culture.

The other recommendation of Dearing was a further proliferation of bureaucratic oversight of teaching and research. This has already dumbed-down the methods of pedagogy in colleges toward technical communication and, in research, to a proliferation of short-term projects and superficial and redundant publication. This all leads to homogeneity and mediocrity.

First a motley crew of sub-university colleges were recklessly raised in the 1980s to the status of universities in Britain. Now this untrammelled expansion is going to be paid for by the middle classes and further imposition of standardisation that stifles thought and creativity. It is the US story of the 1970s and 1980s all over again. It is sad that Britain has lacked the moral courage and intellectual power to avoid going down the miserable road that American higher education has already traversed.


Professor of history and sociology, New York University

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