Magazine article Times Higher Education

Making Policy in British Higher Education 1945-2011

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Making Policy in British Higher Education 1945-2011

Article excerpt

Making Policy in British Higher Education 1945-2011. By Michael Shattock. McGraw-Hill/Open University Press 280pp, Pounds 37.99. ISBN 9780335241866. Published 1 October 2012

The main question raised by Michael Shattock's new book is whether any underlying pattern can be discerned in post-war UK higher education policy. A number of writers have pointed to an increase in state control as the nation's economic performance faltered and governments looked to universities for help. Others, including this reviewer, see instead a gradual move towards market-based policies, of which the 2011 higher education White Paper represents the culmination (at least for now). Shattock rules out any such pattern: the sector's development since 1945, he argues, "should not be seen as a progression ... but a reflection of wider currents of economic and social change".

Shattock considers five main issues, turning first to the matter of structure. He believes the rejection of the Robbins committee's 1963 recommendation that the colleges of education should transfer to the university sector was a pivotal moment - and a backward step. It was a point at which the colleges might have been safeguarded, and it could have provided a useful precedent for other locally maintained institutions, such as the polytechnics. As it was, the creation in 1965 of the "binary line" was an unnecessary and ultimately futile policy - although an alternative view might be that the policy was so successful that the transition of polytechnics to university status was accomplished in 1992 with very little trouble.

Turning to the issue of finance, Shattock identifies the most critical episodes as the rejection of the universities' funding demands in 1962, which broke the link with the Treasury as the sponsor department; the 1973-74 oil crisis, which ended quinquennial funding; the University Grants Committee's handling of cuts to state funding in 1981, paving the way for research selectivity; and the vice-chancellors' revolt in 1995-96, which led to the Dearing report and variable fees.

The third subject weighed is research, and Shattock notes that the fusing of research policy and higher education policy would be to the latter's detriment. The origins of selectivity are traced back to the final report of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1965. Whereas most commentators have drawn attention to the consequential concentration of research funds, Shattock emphasises instead the continuing influence of the research university model. …

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