BY Gordon Campbell (University of leicester)

CDBU will be formally launched at an Inaugural Meeting at the British Academy next Tuesday, 13 November. Drawing up the list of those invited to attend this initial meeting has not been easy: the space available to us is small, but the number of academics concerned about the state of our universities is huge, and room must also be found for the national and international journalists who will also be joining us, not to mention many of our Founding Members.

After some words of welcome from the President of the British Academy, Sir Adam Roberts, and introductory remarks by Sir Keith Thomas and two members of the Steering Committee (Howard Hotson and myself), Sir Keith will open the floor to our founders, four of whom have offered to initiate discussion on specific topics. Sir Brian Vickers will speak about Francis Bacon’s distinction between basic research and applied research; Sir John Meurig Thomas on attitudes to research; Lord Morgan on institutional autonomy and academic self-government; and Sir David Edward on the Scottish situation. Thereafter the floor will be open for the CDBU’s Founding Members to air their concerns and proposals . Many have agreed to speak to journalists, including Colin Blakemore, Sir Philip Cohen, Baroness Deech, Sir Deian Hopkin, Lord Krebs, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Margaret Macmillan, Andrew Miller, Lord Morgan, Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, Claire Tomalin, Sir David Watson, and Sir Tony Wrigley, so coverage of CDBU and its mission in the educational and mainstream press looks likely to continue.

The primary purpose of the discussion will not be to collect further criticisms of current university policy, nor to elaborate on the general aims to which all Founding Members have already subscribed. Instead, it will focus primarily on the vexed question of how to transform criticism into effective opposition, general aims into viable alternatives, and a consensus amongst a small group of concerned people into a message and broad-based movement capable of influencing popular opinion and forcing political change.

This, we know, will not be easy. Policy that puts teaching and research at the centre of our universities and speaks effectively to urgent public concerns will take time to formulate. Persuading governments to change policies will take further time, especially as subjects such as the funding of universities are politically contentious, and market-led ways of thinking and legislating have become entrenched. Some change may need to begin on the local level: we need to convince our Vice-Chancellors and Principals that they are managing universities, not businesses; that other universities are allies in a common cause, not competitors; and that energy must be focussed above all else on the quality of our teaching and research. The meeting on Tuesday will mark the official inauguration of a series of much wider discussions and debates designed to deepen our understanding of the current university crisis and to begin rebuilding on more solid and sustainable foundations.

We envisage a series of further events in a variety of locales across Britain which can involve our broader membership both in these discussions and in the activities ensuing from them. We need your help. Join Us.