25 August 2010

Education towards Heteronomy: A Critical Analysis of the Reform of UK Universities since 1978.

By Gordon Finlayson and Daniel Hayward

In the last thirty years the university system in the UK has changed radically, and since 2003 it has also changed rapidly. Four different rationales have been put forward by successive administrations or their appointed advisors for these reforms:

1. Expansion
2. Efficiency
3. Economic accountability – i.e. value for money
4. Political accountability – i.e. democratisation or widening participation.

At the same time all the reforms have been accompanied by the now implicit, now explicit aim of undoing the old collegiate organisational structures of universities and replacing them with corporate structures. This now endemic structural transformation of universities has been by far the most important effect of the reforms. It would be wrong to think that universities have survived more or less unchanged in their nature and function, while merely having been made larger, more efficient, more accountable, more open to a broad social constituency and less remote from social needs.

In the following we will present critical history of UK Higher Education reform. We show that universities are fast losing their status as self-governing educational institutions and their relative independence from the economic and political systems. The academic values that used to govern their activities of researching, teaching and learning have gradually been sacrificed to the instrumental values of economic usefulness and financial rentability. Where universities were once part of the ecology of civil society (as opposed to the state and the economy) they have now been politically repositioned as engines of economic growth. In place of education, they are now supposed to offer training for work. In place of research and free inquiry, they are supposed to produce the intellectual property and human capital required to drive the knowledge economy.

The narrative we offer is of necessity abbreviated, stylised and simplified. It is not supposed to be a detailed and comprehensive account. Still we believe that the broad contours of our interpretation are correct, and consistent with the historical facts of Government policies and their implementation in the period. The aim of the narrative is to pick out the overall pattern in successive Higher Education and University reforms, and to provide sufficient context for those affected to make sense of the changes which are currently being ushered in at breakneck pace throughout the university sector. These changes have not come out of nowhere. Nor are they just the unplanned, quasi-natural consequences of broader social and historical changes: they are the effects of specific policies aimed at repositioning the UK in respect to the global economy, and of the various audits put in place to monitor their performance.

For more on this see here.