20 March 2008


In The Idea of the University: A Re-examination (1992) Jaroslav Pelikan used a phrase from Newman's The Idea of a University (discourse 6) to describe the chorus of political attacks on American universities as a 'storm breaking upon the university'. Today it may not be an exaggeration to that there is a storm breaking upon British universities. Beginning especially with the 2003 White Paper 'The Future of Higher Education', the government has been progressively imposing a set of demands on the sector that are at odds with the very idea of a university as we know it.

In a nutshell: students must be reconceived as customers paying for a service; teaching as the manufacture and delivery of course products to these customers; research as intellectual work carried out for payment to meet the needs of external funders; and universities themselves as private corporations that must compete to sell their products on a global market in order to survive. If they have a contribution to make to the public good beyond that of helping the government to achieve policy objectives, it is to be understood entirely in terms of a contribution to the UK economy: their role is to train students for future employment and to produce research that is usable by businesses or the government. Today the agenda set by these demands dominates the media coverage of the university sector.

This blog aims to document the present drive to marketize and instrumentalize the British university system, to investigate its consequences, and to act as a forum for a discussion of how universities can respond to it so as to preserve their essential values of knowledge and education.