Uniting in Defence of Higher Education in Britain

Higher Education in the UK is experiencing a raft of reforms that are fundamentally reshaping what universities are, how they are governed and their ability to undertake their core task: the production of knowledge in all its guises.

CDBU holds that these reforms are premised on two linked shifts associated with the marketisation of higher education:

  • the instrumentalisation of knowledge and its production (though mechanisms that seek to determine what the outcome of research will be)
  • the privatisation of public educational assets (e.g. in which costs and benefits of education accrue to the individual who can afford it rather than to the whole community)

The CDBU does not dispute that the work undertaken in higher education institutions should be connected to other sectors of the economy. But the processes that underpin all education and knowledge are necessarily unpredictable and open-ended. So the universities that support those processes must be maintained as autonomous institutions to protect them.

The CBDU brings together a diverse group of Founding Members united by the conviction that the longstanding drift of higher education policy in this country, accelerated in recent years, will soon do permanent and irreversible damage to a great university system.

Amongst their number are past and present presidents of Britain’s premier academies of arts and sciences: the British Academy, the Royal Society of London, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Learned Society of Wales. Alongside them are men and women of every conceivable distinction inside academia and of great distinction outside it: they include Nobel laureates, a Fields medalist, a poet laureate, eight members of the Order of Merit, former university Principals and Vice-Chancellors, prominent members of the House of Lords, former cabinet ministers, leading literary figures, journalists, and many faces of science and scholarship most familiar in the broader world of the media.

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What did university meant to you? Help us tell your stories.

Alan Bennett (English playwright, screenwriter, actor and author):

Alan Bennett ‘What Oxford gave me was time. Though, like many of my generation, I didn’t go up until I was 20 and had done national service I was young for my age and, though I worked hard, my first two years were pretty much wasted. It was only in what I imagined was to be my final year that I tippled to the (still to me) rather shameful fact that there was a technique to passing examinations that had less to do with knowledge and more to do with presentation and indeed journalism. This carried me through my finals and enabled me to stay on to do research and to teach … though I was not much better at teaching than I had been at learning. In that time, though, I was supervised by someone whose passion for his subject, his care for his pupils and his moral rigour I have never forgotten. His example has stayed with me all my life though in fields far from mediaeval history. Still he used to say that mediaeval history was itself just a branch of the entertainment industry.’  Read the rest of Alan Bennett’s story.

What is happening in your university? Help us record the rot

‘As a senior scholar I have for many years, indeed decades, but involved in scholarly and research exchanges with universities in the Far East, most intensively of late years in China. The current frenetic drive for so-called ‘internationalisation’ almost completely ignores such slowly matured scholarly exchange in the mad dash for student mobility and short-term fixes. This is ultimately hugely damaging for proper academic understanding between cultures. At worst it is offensive and ill-informed.’ Permanent academic, Humanities