02 December 2011


From the great Keith Thomas' spirited item in the latest LRB, regarding concerns about British [and Australian] universities -
... the discontinuance of free university education; the withdrawal of direct public funding for the teaching of the humanities and the social sciences; the subjection of universities to an intrusive regime of government regulation and inquisitorial audit; the crude attempt to measure and increase scholarly ‘output’; the requirement that all academic research have an ‘impact’ on the economy; the transformation of self-governing communities of scholars into mega-businesses, staffed by a highly-paid executive class, who oversee the professors, or middle managers, who in turn rule over an ill-paid and often temporary or part-time proletariat of junior lecturers and research assistants, coping with an ever-worsening staff-student ratio; the notion that universities, rather than collaborating in their common task, should compete with each other, and with private providers, to sell their services in a market, where students are seen, not as partners in a joint enterprise of learning and understanding, but as ‘consumers’, seeking the cheapest deals which will enable them to emerge with the highest earning prospects; the indiscriminate application of the label ‘university’ to institutions whose primary task is to provide vocational training and whose staff do not carry out research; and the rejection of the idea that higher education might have a non-monetary value, or that science, scholarship and intellectual inquiry are important for reasons unconnected with economic growth.