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Council for the Defence of British Universities

I note that a very august Council for the Defence of British Universities has been founded and held its inaugural meeting at the British Academy. It has had worldwide press coverage, which can only be good. It has also heavyweight support from outwith the academic community. This is the statement of its Values and Aims.

CDBU exists to advance university education for the public benefit. Its aims are:

  • To defend and enhance the character of British universities as places where students can develop their capacities to the full, where research and scholarship are pursued at the highest level, and where intellectual activity can be freely conducted without regard to its immediate economic benefit
  • To urge that university education, both undergraduate and graduate, be accessible to all students who can benefit from it
  • To maintain the principle that teaching and research are indispensable activities for a university and that one is not pursued at the expense of the other
  • To ensure that universities, while responding to the needs of students and of society in general, should retain ultimate control of the content of the courses taught and the methods of instruction employed. As well as often providing vocational training, university education should equip graduates with the mental skills and intellectual flexibility necessary to meet the demands of a rapidly changing economy. It should develop the powers of the mind, enlarge knowledge and understanding, and enable graduates to lead fuller and more rewarding lives
  • To emphasise that, as well as often having vital social and economic applications and being subject to accountability, academic research seeks to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the physical world, of human nature and of all forms of human activity
  • To ensure that methods employed to assess the quality of university research do not encourage premature or unnecessary publication or inhibit the production of major works of research that require a long period of gestation
  • To safeguard the freedom of academics to teach and to pursue research and inquiry in the directions appropriate to the needs of their subject
  • To maintain the principle of institutional autonomy, to encourage academic self-government and to ensure that the function of managerial and administrative staff is that of facilitating teaching and research
  • To ensure that British universities continue to transmit and reinterpret the world’s cultural and intellectual inheritance, to encourage international exchange and to engage in the independent thought and criticism necessary for the flourishing of any democratic society

I very much hope that it succeeds. To do so it will have to reach out to academics working in all disciplines, and in all kinds of Universities, not just Oxford, Cambridge and London. It will be interesting to see what kind of stance the Council will have towards the Research Councils and

Government Higher Education reforms cost 1 billion more than forecast

A new report by the respected Higher Education Policy Institute claims that the Government reforms in Higher Education funding will cost more than 1 billion more than forecast. The huge oversight is due to over optimistic assumptions, unforeseen consequences, and neglect of potential risk factors. That the Government is sticking to this policy bears out the widespread view that the changes had nothing to do with deficit reduction. Even had the Government not been so way out in their forecast, the policy was always going to cost more in the short term. Only later, it was hoped, would the initial increased expenditure begin to be recouped, as students payed back their loans. Ironically, it now turns out that the new funding ‘system’ could easily end up costing more than the original arrangement it replaced. Supposing that the Government is still in power in the medium term, and that it is unlikely to abandon the policy, which was drawn up by the last Labour regime, this leaves only four viable options.

  1. The shortfall can be met from general taxation, so that the Government and taxpayers contribute more.
  2. Student numbers can be held down or brought down further.
  3. Loan subsidies provided by the Government can be reduced, so that students contribute more.
  4. The remaining HEFCE grant can be reduced, which would impact adversely on Research funding or support for STEM subjects.

In my view option 1. is the only viable one. It is probable that the current Government will opt for 2. and or 3. is almost certain to happen because the government have already given themselves the powers to change the loan terms by means of secondary legislation, which would not require the change to be voted on by parliament.