The UK, like the US, is moving to the market

May 25, 2017

Nick Hillman is right to say that the new divisions between different categories of higher education providers in the UK are unlikely to last (and it is surely shocking, in a regulatory system justified by the need to improve protection for consumers, that more than 500 providers will still be unregulated). But there are more parallels between the US and the UK higher education systems than he acknowledges (“Transatlantic divide”, Opinion, 18 May).

Both are characterised by falling state funding, increased privatisation (of both ends and means), increased stratification (of both institutions and the constituencies they serve), increased competition for status (by both institutions and students), and an increasing waste of resources as institutions devote more money and effort to promoting themselves rather than to improving student education. In both countries, these are the direct and easily foreseeable consequences of the neoliberal reforms introduced by successive governments since the early 1980s, and especially the coalition and Cameron governments in England since 2010.

In both countries, too, marketising reforms have been accompanied by increased external regulation as their proponents accept, albeit covertly, that because of the complexities of the “product”, ordinary economic competition can never deliver increased quality. In fact, the effect on quality will more likely be negative as institutions divert into exercises such as the teaching excellence framework the resources that they should be devoting to quality assurance and enhancement. There is truly no end to the ironies of applying classical market theory to higher education.

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