An ‘alternative white paper’ has been published this week in the UK setting out an alternative to the Government’s proposed reforms to the English higher education system, due to come into effect next year.
‘In defence of higher education’ has been signed by more than 400 academics and is endorsed by a number of professional associations and campaign groups. It warns of the consequences of the Government’s reforms, which it argues are based on ideology rather than financial necessity, and sets out nine research-based propositions on the value of higher education to society:
1. Higher education serves public benefits as well as private ones. These require financial support if these benefits are to continue to be provided.
2. Public universities are necessary to build and maintain confidence in public debate.
3. Public universities have a social mission, contributing to the amelioration of social inequality, which is the corollary of the promotion of social mobility.
4. Public higher education is part of a generational contract in which an older generation invests in the wellbeing of future generations that will support them in turn.
5. Public institutions providing similar programmes of study should be funded at a similar level.
6. Education cannot be treated as a simple consumer good; consumer sovereignty is an inappropriate means of placing students at the heart of the system.
7. Training in skills is not the same as a university education. While the first is valuable in its own terms, a university education provides more than technical training. This should be clearly recognised in the title of a university.
8. The university is a community made up of diverse disciplines as well as different activities of teaching, research and external collaboration. These activities are maintained by academics, managers, administrators and a range of support staff, all of whom contribute to what is distinctive about the university as a community.
9. Universities are not only global institutions. They also serve their local and regional communities and their different traditions and contexts are important.