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The other element of the equation is to ensure equality of access by operating what the Americans call a “needs blind” admission system. That is to say, universities such as Harvard and Stanford choose their students on the basis of ability. Once the selection process is complete, those admitted are means-tested and they pay whatever proportion they can afford of the fee (which at a top university may be more than $40,000 a year). The American system effectively means that the less well-off are subsidised by a combination of the very well-off, who pay the full fee, and the substantial endowments that universities have built up over the years. Oxford and Cambridge have such endowments, but other British universities do not: for the system to work, one would need some version of the old system of means-tested student grants (which could be funded from the remainder of the abolished research income stream). In the long term, the surest way of allowing universities to build up their own endowments — besides offering more generous tax breaks for charitable donors — is to create a system in which students get the best teaching imaginable, with the result that those who do well in the world of work will wish to show their gratitude for the intellectual foundations of their success that were laid by their higher education. The current skewing of funding towards research as opposed to teaching is hardly likely to stimulate a shift towards the American culture of alumni support. The neglected third-year Bristol history undergraduate who goes on to become a media mogul would, one imagines, be unlikely to bestow largesse on his alma mater.

Higher education funding is not the stuff of political headline grabbing, but in the so-called “knowledge economy” of the 21st century, this is an area where, if we give the universities the freedom to pursue excellence beyond the constraints of the quangocracy, we can restore our former pre-eminence.

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Joseph Andrews
June 14th, 2008
9:06 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
4:06 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
10:06 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
5:06 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
5:06 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
1:06 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
12:06 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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