Knowledge for a Successful Society
The Convention for Higher Education was formed to promote the public values of higher education and includes colleagues from the Council for the Defence of British Universities, the Campaign for the Public University and the University and College Union). It has produced an Alternative White Paper, In Defence of Public Higher Education: Knowledge for a Successful Society in response to the Government’s White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy. The Alternative White Paper will be launched at the Houses of Parliament on Monday 13th June, 4.30-6.00. Further details on the Convention website.
The government’s current legislative programme for higher education represents a major challenge to the idea of a university and its essential role in the public sphere in the creation and dissemination of knowledge and debate about common objectives. It narrowly views higher education as an investment in human capital and as a contributor to economic growth. It acknowledges that UK universities are world-leading in teaching and research, while destroying the framework of regulation and support that produced that success.
The government’s plans propose to open the sector to private for-profit teaching providers, notwithstanding the history of for-profit higher education littered with poor student outcomes, and with spending concentrated on marketing and profit-sharing. It calls this the creation of a level playing field, while private providers will be relieved (by impending legislation on degree-awarding powers and the title of university) of the wider functions of a university. These moves will undermine the role that universities play in their local communities by opening them to competition for revenue from providers that have no such role.
The government’s proposed “Office for Students” is not about supporting students. It is structured to ensure market competition, to give private providers access to high tuition fees. Its board members will have “the experience of fostering choice and competition, and of robust financial control”. Supposedly “at the heart of the system”, students will instead be short-changed. The Teaching Excellence Framework includes no direct measures of teaching quality. It is designed to facilitate fee increases, with the possibility of abolishing the fee cap in the future.
In contrast, the Alternative White Paper makes the case for higher education as a public good and explains in detail why the present proposals are so damaging and dangerous.