CDBU announces new Chair of Trustees and responds to government “Restructuring Regime”

PRESS RELEASE: July 21, 2020

The Council for the Defence of British Universities is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Rowan Williams (Lord Williams of Oystermouth) as our new Chair of Trustees. 

We offer a warm welcome to Lord Williams, who we know will be an invaluable addition to the organisation. Lord Williams offered the following statement which summarises CDBU’s mission going forward:

‘CDBU sees universities as a public good – that is, as something that connects us better as a society and affords us the ability to gain a critical perspective on how things are. However, it’s difficult to defend traditional academic values in a culture where the idea of the “public good” is treated with incomprehension, and even disdain. 

But if this really is why we are in business, it’s important not only that we make sure that our teaching and research resist the pressures to do no more than solve close-focus problems and boost the economy, but also that we model good practice in our governance and our exercise of power. This means keeping a very critical eye on what can be the tyranny of managerial models, and making sure that the academic profession retains its independence and its questioning edge, and is not reduced to a group of intimidated workers harassed by a financially-driven administration.

To lose this perspective is emphatically not a problem for academics alone; it is a catastrophic loss for society, and not least for the most disadvantaged in society, who need access to robust critical and creative thinking in order to challenge the conditions that constrain them. 

CDBU stands for an intellectual independence that can work in the interests of all by nurturing thoughtful citizens, prepared to ask awkward questions.’

CDBU takes this opportunity to restate our concerns regarding the crisis of higher education which is currently unfolding. While we agree that the crisis has been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, the core issues took root long ago. The pandemic has exposed the dangers of the market model, and has put thousands of university staff, researchers, and students in an even more precarious position than before. 

The government’s recent announcement – a “Restructuring Regime” for institutions which are at risk of financial collapse – exposes the dangerous terrain that UK universities have found themselves in. The present policy remains that of turning universities into businesses, driven by financial gain, metrics, rankings, and a competitive zero sum conflict with fellow institutions. It also diminishes and attacks Student Unions, which have become a crucial hub of activism, standing up for university students and staff alike. What is more, the government intends to force universities to prioritise courses which deliver “strong graduate employment outcomes”, further emphasising their money driven ideology and assumptions about ‘low value degrees’

CDBU was created with the sole intention of protecting universities from reforms which threaten their central function: which is to gather knowledge, free from interference, and to educate people in the skills they need to think critically and independently. The government has threatened this central function by bartering with our most vulnerable institutions, potentially forcing them to surrender their autonomy and academic freedom. This cannot go unnoticed or unchallenged. 

Join CDBU today to protect our universities! Contact or visit our website for more information. 

Notes to editors:

The CDBU was founded in 2012 by a wide range of concerned academics and public figures to campaign for the independence of UK universities and to resist the creeping marketisation of higher education.

For more information, please contact Becca Bashford at