Universities should be free-to charge students what they like. Alan Ryan, Warden of New College, Oxford, says Dearing is already out of date, the system must be deregulatedby Alan Ryan / October 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Labour education policy is a mess, but we should not mock. The last election was fought on two wonderfully self-destructive slogans. When the Tories said: “Labour has stolen our policies-and they will not work,” Labour replied: “Tory spending targets are absurd-and we will adhere to them.” Quite right. The policies won’t work; the targets were absurd; the government has stuck to them, and it will all end in tears. The search for improved standards in schools has encountered local government rate-capping, and come off the worse. The Kennedy report on further education has sunk without trace. And the Dearing report on higher education was hijacked by press release before the committee reported. In comradely spirit, I offer an outline-in about 1,700 words rather than the report’s 1,700 pages-of what Dearing should have said about higher education, and some predictions about what post-16 education will look like in ten years. Dearing’s report was not a guide to the next 20 years but a memento of the last 30. It should be buried quietly, but not in the way ministers have in mind.
First, the context. The higher education system has expanded enormously; 40 years ago, some 5 per cent of school leavers went to university, now 33 per cent do. In Scotland, it is 44 per cent. Higher education is very different from what it was; before, it was liberal education for upper- and middle-class boys, and a few of their sisters. Now, it is mostly pre-professional training: the provision of credentials for the higher reaches of vocational training and access to managerial positions. (Of course, liberal education is also vocational training. The “transferable skills” that employers want are better fostered by “liberal arts and sciences” than by any other undergraduate training, and the threat to the liberal arts posed by Dearing’s obsession with education for work should not be underestimated.) It has also become an education provided on the cheap-in real terms, at about half the price of 30 years ago-and much of it is unimpressive. Even the best British universities would not make the US top ten any longer; any young academic who could get a job at Stanford or Berkeley would be foolish not to take it.
Higher education has become mass education without much changing its class character; only 8 per cent of the bottom two income groups enter the tertiary sector, while 80 per cent of…