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There is a huge opportunity for the Conservative Party to offer some genuine innovation in higher education funding. It could begin from the premise that good research and good teaching go together. It might even call the process “knowledge transfer” — in good universities, research questions emerge through teaching and new hypotheses are tested on students. The original proposal that Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer devised for Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher should be revived. Some form of RAE or REF, or whatever you care to name it, will continue to be necessary in the lab-based sciences. But in the disciplines where you do not need to spend millions and millions of pounds on hi-tech kit — in the arts and humanities, the social sciences, even pure mathematics — you can abolish the designated research funding stream. A proportion of the money released can then be used to increase the payment per student that government gives to the universities for teaching — a sum that has been steadily eroded as the proportion of the population going into higher education has expanded.

But what you have to do at the same time is allow a genuine market to operate in the universities. At present, the supplementary fee paid by students themselves is capped at just over £3,000 per annum, for fear of excluding the socially disadvantaged from higher education. The result is that nearly every university charges the same fee — the maximum rate allowed. By removing the cap, you would allow universities to find their own niche in the market. Some would concentrate primarily on teaching, setting their fees competitively to attract large numbers of students. Others would charge a higher fee in order to raise money to fund research time for their academics, by way of less onerous teaching loads, generous sabbatical provision, and so forth.

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Joseph Andrews
June 14th, 2008
10:06 AM
Anonymous wonders why Bate wrote this article - it's pretty clear that he did so because he thinks that higher education is mired in bureaucracy and that the idea of assessment by citation is index is barmy and that by saying this in a new journal linked to a think-tank with strong Tory connections, he might get the Tories thinking about a less interventionist approach.

Anonymous
June 13th, 2008
5:06 PM
Mr Bartram indicates that he is a pedant - ignoring the big issues raised by the author at the expense of a small point. Mr Briggs is entirely wrong - modern economies depend on education at tertiary level as the US case proves. They educate more students and spend a far greater % GDP per capita on each. Their research is in larger volume and at least equal in quantity. An excellent article, we need to open higher education to the market and bring in far more money.

William Briggs
June 11th, 2008
11:06 AM
The main problem is that there are too many universities and too many kids going to universities. Kids go to "get a degree", i.e., to add a notch to their resumes and seemingly make themselves more attractive to employers. Who goes to university to learn anymore? Instead of so many universities, there should be in their place technical or trade schools, where kids can go to learn a useful skill, so that they can really learn how to make an efficient sales call or market a "brand", or whatever else is deemed useful by businesses. This would save universities for those who want to really learn. It would reduce the amount of unnecessary "research" pumped out, too. Never happen, of course. Parents want the "brand" of the better school on their kids' resumes.

John Kidd
June 9th, 2008
6:06 AM
An apt and lucid commentary on regrettable trends in modern universities.As a now retired teacher at a leading Australian university I can confirm that the the same corrupted bureaucratic foolishness has now spread far beyond the United Kingdom. While recognising the difficulties inherent in external assessment of the quality of an academic's work, and conceding the necessity of public accountability for that work,the article highlights that the now prevailing bean-counting risks damage to the core function of a university which must remain the fostering of the highest possible standards of scholarship, research and teaching. In that sense a university, in order to justify that name, must be an elite institution of learning.

John Kidd
June 9th, 2008
6:06 AM
An apt and lucid commentary on regrettable trends in modern universities.As a now retired teacher at a leading Australian university I can confirm that the the same corrupted bureaucratic foolishness has now spread far beyond the United Kingdom. While recognising the difficulties inherent in external assessment of the quality of an academic's work, and conceding the necessity of public accountability for that work,the article highlights that the now prevailing bean-counting risks damage to the core function of a university which must remain the fostering of the highest possible standards of scholarship, research and teaching. In that sense a university, in order to justify that name, must be an elite institution of learning.

David Bartram
June 8th, 2008
2:06 PM
It's a good thing Jonathan Bate writes more here about the humanities than about the sciences - a weak grasp of basic arithmetic might be more consequential in the latter. Five million is not, after all, one percent of five billion. The smaller (correct) percentage hardly makes the RAE a bargain - but it does at the very least raise questions about the fact-checking skills of the editors of this new magazine.

Anonymous
June 8th, 2008
1:06 PM
Speaking of the Rae-driven system which Bate so much deplores: it is not clear why he imagines that the `incestuous citation game` hasn`t been in place already for some time; as well as the (to address Haldane`s example) `incestuous non-citation game`. It`s also not clear why Bate wrote this article. Presumably he did not write it to score on `metrics`.

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