Beware of Selling Your Soul to the Knowledge Economy
Kealey, Terence, The Independent (London, England)
In an article I wrote in this space on the 21 June 2007 in the week Brown became Prime Minister ("We Should Be Very Afraid of Gordon Brown"), I said: "Brown respects only business people and the City, and he treats public servants as public serfs." As the PM was to show by his response to the credit crunch (he showered the City with money but is now preparing the public sector for cuts) that wasn't a bad prediction of his actions in Number 10.
Now Brown and his government have delivered a further blow to the public sector - and a further boost for the private sector - in their so-called framework for higher education, Higher Ambitions: The Future of Universities in a Knowledge Economy, which represents yet another step towards the subordination of the universities to commerce.
Before the Great War, British universities were independent, and focused on two tasks, namely the education of students and the furthering of scholarship. But the Great War bankrupted the universities (its inflation destroyed their endowments and its conscription depleted them of students), so in 1919 the universities turned to the Government for money. The Government of the day - which like all governments through the ages distrusted independent universities - was only too happy to cough up, because he who pays the piper picks the tune. And latterly the various successive Governments' tune has been corporate welfare.
The great myth of science policy is that governments need to subsidise science to ensure economic growth. But there is no evidence that this is true. In 2003 the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a book The Sources of Economic Growth in OECD Countries, which reported a comprehensive regression analysis of the different factors that might explain the differing growth rates of the world's 21 leading economies from 1971 to 1998, and found that only "business-performed research and development" (R&D) drove economic growth. "Public R&D" had only "negative results."
Yet Government consistently ignores such empirical findings, and persists in believing that it needs to tax companies - only to immediately return them their money in the form of publicly funded university-based science. The universities applaud such subventions, but they are learning that their dependence on Government money distorts their mission.
Once, universities directed their own research according to their own goals, but Higher Ambitions says that universities should serve other goals, namely that they should "contribute to economic growth . …