This webpage gives the background and rationale that we stated when CDBU was formed in 2012.
Universities are amongst Britain’s most successful institutions. They currently occupy four of the top six places in the QS/USNWR World University Rankings, three of the top ten of the Times Higher World University Rankings, and two of the top ten in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, with all the others going to US institutions.
- They mark the ‘frontier of possibility’, according to a recent EC-sponsored study, for the efficient production of both high quality research and highly sought-after graduates
- They produce more academic papers, citations, and highly cited papers per unit of research expenditure than any other country in the G8; but also rank amongst the best systems globally in performing all the other functions expected of a great university system aside from research
- They attract more international students than any university system but the US, and a higher proportion of international students than any other system but Australia
Yet the character of Britain’s universities is being radically altered.
For decades, UK universities have been bound by increasingly restrictive management practices, loaded with endlessly augmented administrative burdens, and stretched virtually to breaking point. Now, in the two years since the publication of the Browne Review, ‘a radical reform of the higher education system’ has begun, designed to change its character fundamentally, permanently, and virtually overnight.
Although these radical changes were planned in detail before the last election, no democratic mandate for them was ever sought. Although opposed by student protests, devastated by scholarly criticism, and unsupported by even the most elementary analysis of the empirical evidence, these changes are being driven forward relentlessly without benefit of Parliamentary debate or public scrutiny.
Why has opposition to these changes proved so ineffective?
The basic answer is surprisingly simple. In the protracted recession of a knowledge economy, where knowledge is money and growth is elusive, powerful forces are bending the university to serve short-term, primarily pragmatic, and narrowly commercial ends. And no equal and opposite forces are organised to resist them.
The UK higher education sector is crowded with bodies representing the interests of one academic group or another: The Russell Group, Universities UK, Million+, The 1994 Group, University Alliance, the UCU, and the NUS, to name a few.
But no organisation exists solely for the purpose of defending academic values and the institutional arrangements best suited to fostering them.
The problem is not that academic values are obsolete: in an increasingly complex world, they are as valid and important as ever. But after decades of subordinating them to other priorities, it can no longer be taken for granted that every educated person understands the enormous value to society as a whole of maintaining places devoted primarily to the pursuit of understanding and to the transmission of that pursuit to the next generation.
The CDBU has been established to fill this void.
Academic values need fresh reformulation and skilful advocacy by influential figures both in and outside the academic world. Scores of these figures have now come together to form the nucleus of the Council for the Defence of British Universities.