Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Don't Be Shy ... Tell It like It Is

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Don't Be Shy ... Tell It like It Is

Article excerpt

Whether for or against reforms in England, vice-chancellors are duty bound to marshal evidence and clarify their position publicly.

It is an extraordinary indictment. In a new documentary about the English higher education reforms, Sir Peter Scott, professor of higher education at the Institute of Education, University of London, recalls a conversation with a "very senior policy figure": "He said that the problem with higher education is that ministers always know that they can get at least one or two vice-chancellors to agree with almost anything they suggest" (page 16). For a community whose raison d'etre is to question, it does not get more damning than that.

The coalition's reforms were described last week at a lecture at University College London by Oxford historian Howard Hotson as "the most radical experiment ever conducted on a major university system in the modern world". By replacing the vast bulk of public funding for university teaching with tripled tuition fees and by ushering in market principles in a bid to drive up standards, the government has enacted "the virtual privatisation of ... an entire university system at the stroke of a pen", he said.

Armed with reams of data, Professor Hotson has built a compelling case that UK higher education and research is, pound for pound, the best in the world. So where is the evidence supporting the need for profound change?

Wherever one stands on the reforms, the lack of research underpinning them, and the lack of rigorous public scrutiny, has been disgraceful.

David Willetts, the universities minister, has claimed that the October 2010 Browne Report is "up there" with 1997's Dearing Report "as a serious, paradigm-shifting publication" - even though Dearing's 2,000 pages and five appendices contrast laughably with Browne's 61 pages. Last year, Times Higher Education established that the Browne review spent only Pounds 68,000 on research, with most of it going on an unpublished opinion survey. …

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