This book should be read by anyone who cares about English universities and their future. Why? Because it reminds us of important truths about our past.
Too many current commentators on and self-styled advocates for UK higher education give the impression that they are engaged on two fronts simultaneously. In one direction they are locked in a battle for resources with their political masters. Meanwhile, more philosophically, they debate with the ghost of Cardinal Newman as if nothing had been said since. As Harold Silver's masterly study demonstrates, the funding battle is hardly new, and the philosophical argument is a much longer and more nuanced story.
In this story there are several consistent themes. These include tensions between 'liberal' and 'vocational' priorities for the curriculum, between teaching and research, between regional and national needs, and between state direction and institutional autonomy. There are also perennial concerns about the definition of a university 'community' (for example, the extent to which it has to be residential), the role of higher education in inculcating 'citizenship', and the ability of its representative bodies (notably the CVCP) to get their act together. Another ongoing trap is that of comparing all aspects of provision to those enjoyed by (and at) Oxford and Cambridge. Compared to the history of our late-medieval foundations, the creation of a twentieth century system was extraordinarily rapid and uneven, with major spurts of growth and of institutional transformation. Towards the very end of the century, Lord (then Sir Ron) Dearing very sensibly refused to allow discussion of Oxbridge when his National Committee of Inquiry tackled any of the pressing generic issues facing UK Higher Education.
Equally, there are some important things which have changed. Much of the value-system, and certainly the language, of Silver's key group was that of evangelical Christianity, now a minority presence on British campuses. As it has grown, the system has also declined in esteem (unlike the experience in the United States). Such declension can be measured both by the cultural salience of Vice-cancellerian spokesmen (yes, invariably men) and the general popular view of universities. Meanwhile, in the wake of Eric Ashby's 'climacteric'