Corrosive effects of the market on universities | Letters

Bernard Porter claims universities have been cheating on a considerable scale to improve their status and thus funding; Michael Carley writes that academics have been sold out by ‘a venal and mediocre caste’ of vice-chancellors; Jean Goodrick praises Access and Pathway courses at FE colleges for getting more socially disadvantaged people to university; Regenia Gagnier says that Cambridge University does not represent all of the UK when it comes to multicultural English syllabi

I’m not surprised at this (Watchdog tells six universities to scrap adverts, 15 November). Ever since British universities became a “market”, they’ve adopted market ethics; especially – but not exclusively – the lower-status, and so more vulnerable, ones. I first noticed this when I was directing my own university department’s submission for the “teaching quality assurance” and “research assessment” exercises in the 1990s, the outcome of which partly determined how much money we would get. Other universities were cheating on a considerable scale: literally hiding away poor lecturers when the assessors came, for example; “sexing up” their research dossiers; and so on. It’s what happens when competition, of this material kind, comes into conflict – and it is a conflict – with academia. One of an academic’s main functions should be to determine the truth of things, insofar as that is possible. The conduct of Falmouth (of which I’d never heard) and all these other institutions named by the Guardian is nothing but a trahison des clercs. Strictly, they should be closed down.

But of course it’s not only the clercs who indulge in this sort of conduct now, in this age of “fake news” and “alternative facts”. The rule seems to be, for some politicians (I’m thinking here, of course, of Boris) and others, that what you say doesn’t have to be true, but only what you can get away with. Isn’t this another example of late capitalist values spreading throughout society?
Bernard Porter
Emeritus professor of modern history, Newcastle University

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