Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

'Political Experiment' Must Not Reduce Education to a Commodity: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

'Political Experiment' Must Not Reduce Education to a Commodity: News

Article excerpt

Students should not be turned into consumers, sector expert Jurgen Enders tells David Matthews.

Since the beginning of the year, the UK's pool of higher education experts, long derided as being too small to cover so many universities and students, has arguably taken a turn to the right.

Nick Hillman, special adviser to the universities and science minister David Willetts, was named the new head of the Higher Education Policy Institute at the beginning of August. He helped to devise the coalition's Pounds 9,000 fee regime for undergraduates, but has insisted that he will "speak truth unto power" and "go wherever the evidence leads".

Roger Brown, a staunch critic of the government's reforms and co-director of the Centre of Higher Education Research Development at Liverpool Hope University, is to retire in the autumn.

And in January, King's College London appointed Alison Wolf, Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management, as director of a new International Centre for University Policy Research. She has said that the centre will be "totally apolitical", but is seen by at least one of her fellow experts, fairly or not, as leaning towards the pro-market side of the debate.

Enter Jurgen Enders, the new professor of higher education at the University of Southampton, who comes to the UK with a deep scepticism about the perceived attempt to turn higher education into a market and the student into a consumer.

Professor Enders has been researching the sector since the mid 1990s, first at the Centre for Research on Higher Education and Work in Germany and then at the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies in the Netherlands.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, he described English higher education as a "wonderful real-life laboratory" in which to study "radical policies" and the impact they will have on universities, teaching and research.

Compared with his experience in mainland Europe, he said it was "amazing" to see just how dramatic a "political experiment" had been taking place, changing not only how universities are funded but also the "underlying beliefs" about the purpose of higher education.

Professor Enders said he did not believe it was truly possible to create a market in higher education with a range of fees, as the coalition government set out to do in 2010, because "you cannot really know about the value" of a degree.

The difficulty of judging education - whether by the skills it imparts, by the extra income and employability it brings or by some other measure - made it hard accurately to gauge the value of a course, he argued. …

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