Financing Higher Education: Answers from the UK

By Nicholas Barr; Iain Crawford | Go to book overview

Preface

In November 1987, the Secretary of State for Education, Kenneth Baker (now Lord Baker of Dorking) published a White Paper (UK Department for Education and Science 1987) foreshadowing the 1988 Education Reform Act which, in effect, nationalised Britain's universities. On 27 January 2004, the House of Commons, after bitter dispute and by a majority of only five, gave a Second Reading to a Higher Education Bill which restored a measure of autonomy and competition. The Bill received Royal Assent in July 2004.

In policy terms, therefore, this is a story with a happy ending. But it is clearly also a long one. Iain and I first met by chance in late 1987. He was finishing an undergraduate degree at the London School of Economics (LSE), which he had started as a mature student, but from which he had taken time out to fight a Parliamentary seat in the 1987 General Election. At the time, he had just accepted a part-time job with a specific remit to consider the School's position in connection with some of the White Paper's proposals. I had recently published the first edition of The Economics of the Welfare State (1987), which applied the then fairly new economics of information to the welfare state, considering in particular where markets were likely to work well (e.g. food) and where badly (health care, school education). The book included a short section on student loans (Chapter 2, this volume).

We both attended a meeting at LSE in March 1988 to discuss how academics might head off the worst features of the Education Reform Bill. Iain's view was blunt: 'Don't start from here.' Instead, he argued, we should set the scene for the next time the issue became salient. In short order, he engineered a slot for me to appear on the 'Today' programme on BBC Radio 4, with more to follow, and encouraged me to write an article for The Times Higher Education Supplement about my current research on student poverty.

The mix worked instantly, so that we were able to do together what neither of us could have done alone. To some extent, my main contributions were the analytics and the writing, Iain's the political nous and understanding of the media, but that oversimplifies the nature of the joint

-xv-

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