Higher education in Britain, 1987 to 2004
The spark that generated this book was a 1987 White Paper, Higher Education: Meeting the Challenge
(UK Department for Education and Science 1987), which strengthened central government control of universities in England and Wales almost to the point of nationalising them. The problem was never one of academic freedom (as our noisy campaign demonstrates), but of the economic freedom of universities. Our initial motivation was our view that the academic response to the White Paper was supine, and that academics themselves should be taking a lead in reform.The story since then can be divided into three parts.
|• The late 1980s, a time of innovation, saw the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988, which strengthened central planning of higher education, and further legislation which introduced Britain's first large-scale student loan scheme. The chapters in Part 1 argue that central planning was the wrong direction, and that, though it was right to establish loans, the scheme introduced was the wrong one both in terms of design and because it did nothing to improve the funding of higher education.|
|• It was therefore predictable that funding problems would recur. As a result, the Dearing Committee was set up in 1996 and published its Report in 1997. The chapters in Part 2 discuss this period. Their main argument is that the recommendations of the Dearing Report (flat fees, covered by a better-designed loan) were coherent, albeit cautious, but that the government's response (income-tested fees unsupported by a loan entitlement) muddied the waters. Once more, an opportunity to solve the problems of higher education finance was lost.|