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1. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak on the ‘Future of Higher Education’ – what future, some people may ask, because after more than decade of sustained increases in funding, both for students and for research, higher education [in England, at any rate] seems to be on the brink of a new ‘Iron Age’. In fact, despite my opposition to almost everything that is being proposed by the Government – a rather toxic mix of privatisation and nationalisation, in my view – I believe our first responsibility is to avoid a slide into the language, and mentality, of catastrophe. 2. Of course, that’s not easy. We are faced with two ‘stories’. The first ‘story’ is about the death of public higher education. This is not just a question of the usual critics – the NUS, UCU and a (very) few leftish Vice-Chancellors. Whatever else the Browne report will eventually achieve, it has already been successful in mobilising the bulk of academic opinion in resistance to its proposals. More than that – Browne has also roused the public intellectuals. It is rare indeed that they notice events in their own backyard. But not only has the London Review of Books published three excellent polemics – by Stefan Collini last year (which I circulated to my [then] Governing Body, probably to their bemusement) and twice in recent weeks by Harold Hotson – the present ‘crisis’ in English higher education has even made the pages of the New York Review of Books. So that is one ‘story’ – and well told it has been. 3. But there is a second ‘story’ – of the slow car crash that the Government’s plans to reform higher education are turning into. Originally David Willetts promised a White Paper ‘by Christmas’; then it was promised ‘in the spring’; next it was promised on June 7 [today]; the latest is that it has been put off until July. Some cynics are beginning to wonder if it will ever appear – or whether some fudged broad-brush high-level statement will appear instead, and the poisoned chalice will be passed back to HEFCE to sort out. Perhaps if HEFCE had not been kept out of the loop in the first place by the Browne committee and then by the Government, this very public policy meltdown might have been avoided. The same week Harold Hotson’s first piece appeared in the LRB, the process descended almost in farce – as, within hours of David Willetts floating the idea of rich families buying ‘off-quota’ places, he was slapped down by David Cameron. Meanwhile Vince Cable glowers in the corner, not saying much but what he does say largely critical of universities. One thing is sure – it is difficult to recall a better (or do I mean worse?) example of how not to make public policy. 4. But just as I don’t entirely buy the-death-of-the-public-university ‘story’ (my heart does but not my head), nor do I think we should indulge (too long, at any rate) our feelings of schadenfreude. It is not in any one’s interests, least of all ours as social scientists, to encourage bad habits in the making of public policy. I am not doing quite as far as to say that it is our duty to rescue David Willetts from his folly. But I am saying that we should keep cool heads – by offering as cool, dispassionate and careful analysis of the Government’s plans as is possible, an analysis that recognises the continuities with past policy (and, more controversially perhaps, the commonalities with Labour’s higher education policy because, if we are honest, there has been a decades-long drift away from collegial governance to executive governance in universities and also towards some inchoate, ill-defined, form of a
It is hazardous to speculate – although the motherhood-and-apple-piece stuff about empowering students through more transparent information and not forgetting about widening participation (to quieten Liberal Democrats jitters) is easy to predict. So today I would like to do two things: First. of course. the White Paper has yet to appear. What we are left with is not that different from a – retrograde and regressive – graduate tax (which. rather than simply offering a single worsecase Doomsday account.5K). because of the repayment terms. see their report in dramatic terms. looking back. to talk about Browne and all that – which cannot. uncompromisingly. that they are among the very ‘best’ (hence they have decided to charge £9K) and those that want to demonstrate their social conscience (so they will charge £8. But the processes of adjustment are already apparent: First. The only substantial difference is between those which want to assert. Six scenarios 7. But some tricky balances will have to be negotiated – between the desire to promote a student demand-led market and the manifest need to limit the State’s financial exposure (which translates into student number controls). So what is likely to happen? Let me list six possible scenarios: . 5. Both are simply ‘positioning statements’ not market decisions – and the £500 difference is neither here-nor-there. At any rate we should provide a range of possible scenarios. Next. The big question is whether. the compromises and adjustments be made – restoring business-asusual? Lord Browne and his fellow committee members. Thirdly. the final abandonment of higher education’s own version of the post-war settlement? Or will the media storm die down. the political circus move on. I want to take the long view – and talk about the deeper currents of change in higher education. No wonder it is proving difficult to write. the Government itself refused to lift the fees cap entirely. and also between the enthusiasm for private providers and the need to prevent a wholesale erosion of quality and standards. will never be paid back in full). as Browne recommended – so undermining any possibility of a real ‘market’ developing (if such a possibility had ever existed). nearly every university has decided to charge fees right at the top of the permitted range. I will try to thread a narrow path between complacency and catastrophe. of course. economic and cultural structures (and changes in knowledge and technology) which matter far more than the surface eddies of politics. and should not be avoided – but to do so as dispassionately and realistically as possible. from the mildly disruptive to the seriously scary. So to start with Browne and its after-shocks. Browne report will be seen as such a dramatic break-point. Second. they even use that much abused term ‘paradigm shift’.‘market’ in higher education). the shift in social. Browne and all that 6.
at the least assessing ‘impact’ produces new uncertainties. . the current pattern of institutions was established – half a century ago!). Some institutions struggle to maintain their independence. On the other hand. indeed more differential ‘gearing’ of research funding allocation systems has been needed to override their results.i) A first scenario is that. and others again non-UK higher education institutions attracted by a more open (and potentially lucrative?) market place. although an elite core remains ‘above the market’. embracing not just the fees and funding changes developed from the Browne report and the spending review but wider policies (for example. Equally decisive are subject mix (lots of STEM subjects would be ‘good’ – or would it?). v) A fifth scenario takes a broader view. higher fees force other universities to abandon me-too strategies of ‘academic drift’ (especially in terms of building research capacity) and adopt strategies that are dictated more by the demands of students and needs of employers. others multi-national media corporations with entirely new delivery models. public and private or national and international). but private providers flood in – some for-profit companies specialising in course delivery. Success in the fees market-place depends not only on the capacity to charge higher fees but also the ability to recruit sufficient students. broadly. The new visa regulations also handicap those institutions which try to escape from the constraints of national policies (or overcome their weaknesses in domestic markets) by ‘international flight’. ii) But a second scenario is that higher fees consolidate the position of higher-status institutions – because they provide a more secure – and more generous – stream of funding underwritten by the State than under the current HEFCE grant system. comes to pass. financial resilience and management capacity. the Research Excellence Framework or new regulations on student visas). Successive Research Assessment Exercises have failed to promote research concentration. Not only does a lively market in fees develop among existing higher education institutions. according to a third scenario. Despite the apparent uniformity of headline fees. the paradigm shift announced by Lord Browne. iii) But. The attitude of Ministers (and. geography (often at the level of micro-regions). indeed. those that cross boundaries – between HE and FE. the attitude of HEFCE) to institutional failures is difficult to predict – especially if they are the ‘wrong’ losers (in academic or political terms). The REF is even worse. iv) Of course a fourth scenario opens up the possibility of more radical restructuring than has been seen since the 1960s (when. So an institution’s place in the ‘pecking order’ (and its academic standing – which are not necessarily the same. the current ‘reform’ produces unexpected ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. or especially. whatever the fees. Meanwhile Further Education colleges become much more significant providers both of entry-level higher education (rather on the US community college pattern) and of new vocational pathways (in a re-run of the binary policy of the 1960s). the bulk of institutions are transformed by differential fees. At a less catastrophist level experience of. So. although they are confused in a system obsessed with brands and league tables) is not the only success factor. more or less generous bursaries and other market devices produce real differentiation. through their influence. widespread discounting. and appetite for collaborations and partnerships becomes much more important (even.
The rest of us are interested because the level of demand will determine how the system develops. Then there is another twist. If demand stays high higher education will remain a ‘seller’s market’. because we have become in many key respects a ‘graduate society’. we know almost nothing about the impact of higher fees on student demand. used to searching out new student markets to compensate for declining or lost markets. with little downward pressure on fees. have little choice but to pay higher fees (and. we presumably must reach saturation point – and. First. Institutions lower down the ‘food chain’ may be unable to recruit students whatever fees they charge. Then there is the impact of demography – buoyant in London and the South east. known unknowns and unknown unknowns 8. because they may never have to pay back the full amount. because there may be no students left. ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknown’. the collateral damage that always attends on reforms done in a great hurry. An educated guess is that 80% plus of potential students will still have no choice but to go to higher education. Good habits developed in the course of ‘widening participation’ are turned into shrewd business strategies. even if demand recovers. They also tend to be the most ‘street-wise’ institutions. 10. many even welcome higher fees because they give institutions more money to meet student demands in the hereand-now). Let me just mention three: Student demand 9. Knowns. may be put off. Remember Donald Rumsfeld’s not entirely distinction between ‘knowns’. But 10% plus. Even those institutions most exposed by a high-fee regime develop effective coping strategies. Fee cartels emerge through a process of osmosis that is immune to effective scrutiny by fair competition regulators.These are just two examples of the potential significant impact of ‘non-Browne’ policies. of course. some stage. is interested in this question because it wants to know what the total bill s going to be. if demand declines significantly. however loud their collective protests. from socially more disadvantaged groups. there are signs it has been reached in the United States. But two points: First. Secondly. But experience suggests that we will end up with a mixture. although we feel we must still be some way from that point here in Britain. in mass higher education systems. it may not help to produce more fee differentiation. Which of these scenarios is most plausible? Your guess is as good as mine. much less so elsewhere. But. with elements of all six (and maybe of other scenarios). how long will the trough last – and what will be the impact on the finances of more vulnerable universities? Price Group C and D . The Treasury. My worry is the unintended (and maybe perverse?) consequences. Many people expect a temporary decline in demand to be followed by a resumption of growth. vi) But then there is a sixth scenario in which the whole higher education system demonstrates its underlying resilience by ‘absorbing’ the impact of the current reforms with minimum change. Most students.
. This has been represented as a gigantic act of philistinism. would effectively pay no fees. will become concentrated in elite universities – and inevitably. The real difficulty is that we have no idea what the consequences will be: One possibility. of course. it can be argued. Take the example of a student in Berwick-upon-Tweed who wants to attend their closest university. while it is unlawful to discriminate against citizens from other EU states. and more prosaically. believing they are responding to the ‘political message’. another unintended consequence of the withdrawal for HEFCE funding could be an even more intensive. and social sciences. In a further twist a student from Bucharest. therefore. while ‘philosopher kings’ can be trusted with the truth. This is not completely unfair. because we are all aware of the way politicians love to attack media studies courses or ridicule any social science research that is remotely theoretical or critical. it is fine to discriminate against your own citizens). and also that the lack of dependence on HEFCE funding enhances their autonomy. because (as members of the Browne committee have pointed out) tuition fees are really a form of student vouchers – and so represent a substantial. But can a functioning. are even more necessary for the kind of students recruited by London Met than for students at Oxford – not just necessary for them. let alone flourishing. another that they will actually expand student numbers (because £9K is more than the total they currently receive in grant and fees). democracy tolerate such a resurgence of aristocratic and authoritarian ideas? The arts and humanities. public commitment to the arts and social sciences.11. and the more critical social sciences. the people cannot. Not only is the Welsh Assembly Government planning to discriminate against English-domiciled students in Welsh universities. My second example of collateral damage is the large-scale cut in HEFCE’s teaching grant to universities – which. Those between England and Wales are not. the arts and humanities and the social sciences – but also art and design and other creative subjects. Devolution 13. and also business and management). even increased. In fact the example I have just given is not the best one. is that universities will disinvest in these subjects. means that there will be no grant at all for price group C and D subjects (in other words. Edinburgh. focus on ‘big science’ in research funding – and the future distribution of QR – at our expense. will be charged £9K while a student living just across the Border. and excessive. She. Another concern must be that the arts and humanities. The implication would then be that. In other words many of the most fundamental disciplines in the modern university will receive no direct public support. necessary for us. would be treated like the student from Duns not like the student from Berwick (the legal argument being that. because cross-border flows between Scotland and England are fairly modest. as a society: Finally. presumably. or he. The final example of collateral damage – and. of course. 12. in Duns say. on the other side of Europe. unintended consequences – is the impact of devolution. in the elite social groups that are concentrated in these universities. 45 miles away. But it is not completely unfair either. it is also proposing to subsidise Welsh-domiciled students in English universities.
that historic sense of ‘Britishness’ to which both Conservative and Labour politicians have pledged their allegiance. ethnic origin. This has made it much more difficult to fund public services. So what changes do I have in mind? Three in particular (and these are hardly surprising choices): i) The first is the growth of the knowledge economy. and (ii) ‘cultural capital’ (or. In the so-called ‘race to the top’ the pressure to concentrate on high-skill ‘knowledge economy’ jobs. Not only will this produce major distortions that have no academic logic. iii) The third big change is in political culture – in particular. force politicians to meddle furiously and over-claim wildly. and so on. So more Government borrowing. So I would like to spend just a few minutes looking at this ‘big picture’. the future of the United Kingdom and our ‘post-imperial’ identity rather than reinvented ‘national’ identities. the great majority of which are also graduate jobs. religion. At the same time a growing proportion of those advanced skills are generated within higher education. One reaction to all this is to treat it as Alice-in-Wonderland politics. out of general taxation. as more and more professions and occupations require graduate credentials. a structural as well as ideological shift. are much more likely to be eroded ‘from below’. exposure to a new and more open ‘graduate society’ (which is as much about life-styles as about life-chances). the stakes are even higher – the United Kingdom.14. by an accumulation of rather humdrum inequities such as these. and critical social sciences and the nature of democratic society. in the short run. and instantaneous always-on media-driven politics which. It is these more fundamental structural changes – in science and society. 16. I have always particularly liked the contrast drawn the French historian Fernand Braudel between the ‘history of events’ and the ‘long haul’ (longue durée). Political events and the long haul 15. Now increasingly identity is moulded by: (i) levels of educational attainment. including higher education. ceaseless reorganisations and reforms and quick-fixes like PFI (and private universities?) 17. But much is at stake. and disrupt ‘natural’ student choices. in organisations and culture – that will shape the future of higher education not Browne and Willetts (or even the elegant critiques of their policies in the LRB and NYRB). the shift from the ‘welfare state’ to the ‘market state’. In the past these identities were shaped by gender. occupation and social class. ii) The second is the important changes in the way in which group and individual identities are formed. I have already begun to drift into bigger topics – the links between the arts and humanities. more prosaically. is one of the major drivers of modern higher education. than dissolved ‘from above’ by dramatic constitutional and legal actions. Most of the really fundamental changes in higher education reflect these kinds of changes – such as: . geography. Year-on-year there is an inexorable decline in low-skill jobs and an equally inexorable increase in the number of jobs for which advanced skills are required.
it means that I have an excuse for worrying less about the Browne report and its after-shocks. extend beyond the individual and also beyond our own times. but public in the sense that higher education. ‘public’ higher education: FIRST. governance and management. New patterns of research production – the ‘industrialisation’ of research practice.5 million students compared with 1. For me the whole idea of . I recognise that I have walking the narrow line between complacency and catastrophe – and many of you may feel that I have erred on the side of complacency. which seems bizarre and contradictory in terms of the ‘history of events’. But let me end with a more personal coda. both teaching and research. and of teaching and learning in higher education – the creeping ‘vocationalisation’ of most university courses (the very opposite of ‘academic drift’) and. 20.. FIRST. more specifically. SECONDLY. public policy and professional insights and empirical research – to bear on understanding modern higher education systems. There are three fundamental reasons why I believe in. the explosion of IT. After all. in the most part. The growth of the system. Finally. They are not. must transcend the purely personal. and (I hope) stand behind. the conditions of our social life: SECONDLY. social media and the rest. I find that comforting – for two reasons. The waning of the ‘donnish dominion’ and the rise of the managers. any weakening of the idea of ‘public’ higher education will compromise the university’s key position in ‘civil society’. coming ‘from above’. their leadership. these changes are coming ‘from below’ – or ‘coming from outside’. of course. So let me try to redress the balance and leave no one in any doubt about where I stand. Changes in the pattern of courses. from which we are still reeling. increasing surveillance (sorry – assessment and accountability!) and high-flown theories of ‘Mode 2’ knowledge and the ‘Triple Helix’. becomes much more comprehensible in the context of the ‘long haul’. that crucial space between the State or the market and the purely personal domain. in the long haul present difficulties disappear – even though the long haul is composed of the slow accretion of present events. it underlines for me the urgent need to bring social scientific knowledge – theories. changes in universities as organisations – and. any weakening of that idea is certain to undermine higher education as a progressive social project – not just at the margin in terms of ‘widening participation’ but centrally in terms of the quality of our democracy. although as an unreformed social democrat I believe that is where universities should derive most of their support from and that students should not be burdened with debt. much of it very recent: today there are 2. the combination of privatisation and nationalisation which is being inflicted upon us.5 million at the time of the Dearing report 12 years ago. That is where we will discover its future not in the entrails of David Willetts! Conclusion 19.. I stand four-square for ‘public’ higher education – public not solely in terms of its funding. 18. In my view.
especially of research. 6. procedural terms. if the differential here between overseas students’ fees and home fees diminishes then we may not recruit as many overseas students. seeing it rather in mechanistic. The UK is not a trendsetter. compared to 10 years ago. 3. not for profit or partnerships such as the recently announced New College where the academics own shares. 2. Ewan Ferlie (SHOC). Ceridwen Roberts AcSS.‘civil society’ implies collective actions and instincts. Second. the general public see the importance of being a graduate and would regard any restriction of access to HE negatively: HE is widely regarded as a right.g. So – I have no doubt that great things are at stake. who will only follow what they already know. PS: I am uncomfortable about subjects marketing themselves as brands. is incompatible with fundamental processes of ‘open’ science on which its continuing progress ultimately depends. any weakening of the idea of ‘public’ higher education is a challenge to science itself – because the ‘marketisation’ of higher education. are we witnessing the disappearance of the concept of the public university? PS: Too many senior university people now don’t hold to the idea of a public university. More broadly. But others [in US] are seen as money-makers and this is often regarded as offensive over here. Ann Buchanan AcSS. Questions and Answers following Professor Sir Peter Scott’s talk on the Future of Higher Education and of the Social Sciences given to the College Annual Meetings on 7th June 2011 1. . 5. But against this. The Netherlands already charges significant fees. The University of Maastricht wishes to join the UCAS system: if European universities are cheap. we must distinguish a public sector university from a HE institution serving the public interest. PS: Many European governments are tempted by higher fees. Given the internationalisation of Higher Education. Harvard is regarded as an institution which serves the public benefit. Have we underestimated the effect of the UK state’s power on universities? There have been negative consequences since the 1990s of steering by the state. therefore. but the Nordic countries cannot accept the idea of fees. Gail Birkett (BISA). There was no marked behaviour change when Clarke first introduced fees. Also. they will probably be a draw. But I don’t expect student behaviour to change as a result of the rise in fees. FINALLY. The impact may well fall on postgraduate courses as Masters courses may be cheaper elsewhere. freedom – flourish. 4. Nor do I have any doubt about the ground on which I stand. Ceridwen Roberts AcSS. BISA is going to start marketing to GSCE level students. 21. IG: The evidence from Europe is that they won’t follow the UK and the difference in fees is already large. And will we see hybrid forms of HE – e. Students tend to see their chosen subject as a statement about their future selves. PS: This is a risk. Ian Gough AcSS (Chair College of Academicians). If the public sector is disappearing there are fewer possibilities for social science graduates. but what they do tends to relate to political ideology. Thank you for listening to me. PS: Yet traditional academic disciplines are resilient. Young people’s choices are related to jobs. how can a English university system with high fees coexist with universities in Europe? PS: There will probably be wide effects. For example. And it is ‘civil society’ in which criticality – and. Collini says that the elimination of public funding for the arts and social sciences means that universities will be at the mercy of the preferences of teenagers.
which is probably good. This could be regarded positively as a clever way of providing public support. Another issue is that European students are already taking loans from our government but will probably never repay them when they return to their own countries. It is still a hugely publicly subsidized system. It is important that social science and the arts are preserved in all places – which is the worry about the employability argument. There is a need for independent and disinterested people of suitable status to make these arguments as otherwise they are perceived as being made to benefit particular institutions. BD: This is the role of the Academy. Many students are now p/t and hold down jobs: the distinction between f/t and p/t study is essentially gone already. Many home students will never repay the loans either as they may take lower paying jobs. Andy Ross (GES). 8. 9. Now is the time for more flexible providers. PS: Recent figures show that 40% of graduates have not repaid their loans. Social Science hasn’t got its message across about the skills set it provides. What about other forms of Higher Education. 7. This was an inevitable part of increasing transparency with growth. Barbara Doig AcSS. such as part time? PS: Browne did recognise that p/t students also need access to loans. The universities haven’t asserted their independence.PS: a) There has been an encroachment of state power on universities. End. b) What is important about any models of funding HE is the ethos rather than the mechanics. The universities most likely to be under threat will move to vocational qualifications and a strong employability focus. PS: those from poorer backgrounds tend to take a short view and opt for vocational qualifications because they need to get jobs. The UK differs. The system is already changing and the funding system is playing ‘catch-up’. Corinne Squire AcSS. Post graduate study is already very flexible but the bulk of younger students have very traditional expectations. How can it do this? PS: The IoE provides an MBA in HE Management. and probably most female students will never do so. but professional managers is not a positive move. 10. Linda Hantrais AcSS. . In the US the President of a university tends to regard himself as part of the administration rather than the Faculty.
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