On the “Why?” of higher education

There is a really good takedown of a recent Centre for Policy Studies report on student finance in WonkeHE. While the post provides good arguments for a shift away from human capital theory-based justifications for public investment in higher education, this quote really resonated with me:

I have no glib solution to which you might sign up. But when hard times find us, criticism must strike for the root: the root is undergraduate study as a stratified, unequal, positional good dominating future opportunities and outcomes. What might find broader public support is a vision of higher education institutions that are civic and open to lifelong participation, instead of places beholden to the three-year, full-time degree leveraged on loans and aiming to cream off ‘talent’.

In other words, if we – students, academics or universities – think that the current system of student funding in England is iniquitous then we really need to make a much clearer case to the wider public and to government that investment in higher education is for the common good, not individual advantage. I would also say that in Scotland, where there aren’t student fees, a common good case may be easier to make but the current funding seems totally inadequate to support the complex portfolio of activities expected of higher education institutions.

On the flip-side, universities need to demonstrate their societal value – that money is spent well in the sector and that the societal benefits are best delivered by investing in universities rather than elsewhere.

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