Don't expect OfS leaders to fight market

March 23, 2017

Higher education policy in the UK has long since passed the point at which even the estimable Laurie Taylor struggles to satirise it. If any further proof were needed, it can be found in the comment in John Morgan’s report “Market figure tipped to ‘shake’ English sector at Office for Students” (News, 16 March) – no doubt based on an official briefing or at least well-informed semi-official gossip – that the chair-designate of the Office for Students, Sir Michael Barber, will fill the role of senior figure “with balancing education experience” against the appointment of a market-fierce chief executive.

However, Sir Michael – along with two vice-chancellors and others – was a member of the Browne review. The review’s report depicted higher education as a commodity that was best provided on a market basis just like any other commodity. This may not have done much for the reputations of those involved, but it provided a fig leaf for the coalition government’s reforms, which are now doing such damage to the public role of English higher education.

The notion that Sir Michael will now be a defender of a publicly focused university system is either heroic or frankly risible.

Roger Brown
Former vice-chancellor
Southampton Solent University

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