Another great piece from Times Higher Education, questioning whether forcing universities to seek funding, demonstrate impact, etc. has actually done the sector any favours?
All universities over the past 40 years have been forced to find money to supplement their public-funding shortfall; but it was not always thus. In 1919, the state expressed its financial interest in our having a national system of higher education, funded from general taxation. The University Grants Committee would distribute the funds to ensure our autonomy, explicitly precluding our acting as an arm of government; and our responsibilities were primarily to the demands of knowledge, engaged for the general public good. The recent Browne Review almost completely reverses this, with the explicit disavowal of state interest in our activity, and service for public good ceding place to our serving a political agenda.
By insistently asking the “value-for-money” question, governments since 1980 have in essence restricted university autonomy. They have explicitly required that we become an arm of government, while simultaneously cutting our funding from taxation. Always remember: the research assessment exercise/research excellence framework is a mechanism for legitimising the reduction of funding for research; “peer review” is a way of getting the sector to inflict the pain of cuts upon ourselves, government hereby absolving itself of responsibility. Who is at fault here?
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