The double assault of the Browne Report and Wednesday’s Comprehensive Spending Review have understandably led to despair and anger among academics in the humanities and social sciences. The reasons are manifold: the apparent belief by Cable and Willetts that only science matters, an insidious privatisation of public institutions, further debt for those least able to pay, massive cuts in teaching budgets, and education as a source of funds for bank bail-outs, not to mention rank hypocrisy from men educated for free and now pulling up the ladder while telling the rest of us that their schemes are not only fair, but progressive too.
This knot of anxiety deserves some dissection. The necessity, in the midst of a storm, for calm and sober reflection. Such is my rhetorical mode today. The main strand of existing critique centres on the implications for inequality. Higher fees, under such an account, can only increase the unwillingness of the poorest to attend universities, and so transform them into bastions of privilege.
But this isn’t quite right. Continue reading