Magazine article Times Higher Education

Freedom: Just Another Word for Bigger Profits

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Freedom: Just Another Word for Bigger Profits

Article excerpt

Terence Kealey deserves thanks for explicating a key point on which ministers prefer to maintain silence: namely, that the argument for privatising the UK's universities rests empirically on the performance of the top US private universities ("Declaration of independence", 11 October). His candour is all the more precious for revealing so clearly how this argument, thinly disguised as defence of intellectual autonomy, is actually propelled by institutional self-interest.

The basic argument is familiar. Since he who pays the piper calls the tune, only complete financial independence guarantees intellectual independence.

The problem is that the great private US universities are not financially independent. The vast bulk of their funding for research, on which their fame principally rests, comes from public sources; and even their high tuition fees are made possible by government-backed student grants and loans.

Far from criticising this reliance on state funding, Kealey proposes not only to emulate it but to surpass it. Private universities, he argues, should "be free to cherry-pick quality-related (QR) research money from the Higher Education Funding Council for England". In other words, the University of Buckingham should have full access to public research funding, not only for individual project grants (like Ivy League universities) but also for institutional block grants from Hefce. Why taking the king's shilling for teaching erodes intellectual integrity yet doing the same for research represents a victory for independence is something he fails to explain. …

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