Higher education has now joined the growing list of subjects (immigration, multiculturalism, nuclear armaments, freedom of speech) about which it is increasingly difficult, it seems, to have an informed public argument. A hugely ambitious and successful programme of government-sponsored “reform” has enshrined various assumptions in the debate: that HE is primarily an exercise in promoting national economic prosperity; that there are quantifiable criteria for judging the quality of research; that the academic profession is in constant need of guidance from outside in order to save it from self-indulgent, inefficient and irrelevant activities; and that the basic model of education in general and universities in particular is that of a product which has to be marketed to individual consumers (students) and is naturally to be assessed in terms of consumer satisfaction….
Flannel about empowerment and the increase of purchasing liberty conceals a barbarous indifference to the notion that learning changes you, that this takes time, and that the point of the intellectual life is not productivity but comprehension, and the liberty to ask awkward questions. The proposal that the quality of teaching should be measured by levels of graduate salary is simply one of the more egregious versions of this indifference – as if the graduate who becomes a primary school teacher, a junior doctor, a development worker or, for that matter, a post-doctoral researcher in biomathematics has been taught less well than one who heads for a City law firm.
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