Opinion on markets

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There is an enormous amount of recoiling in horror going on tonight about the marketisation of higher education. It has been coming for some time – this should not be an unexpected theme – the emphasis on QA, market engagement, the increased importance of publicising the nutritional information of courses (to aid choice), massification and the simultaneous creep of fees, along with the rise of technology enhanced learning has has prepared the way for this move. This is perhaps not due to one or another government acting alone but more the global patterns unfolding.

There is an ever important global HE market with satellite campuses sought, internationally recognisable brands that look like their own state economies, transnational e-learning partnerships, niche network provision and the rise of highly efficient private universities, Laureate and Kaplan to name only two. We can press on and play or become an island but we cannot stop these trends.

UK universities have amazing attributes, but I fear some are sluggish, bureaucratic, compliant structures that have too many masters, a culture of short-termism that is not concomitant with long-term sustainability, and some follow scent trails of funding at the expense of losing site of the bigger picture. Critical thinking in leadership in some, not all, institutions is hampered by ‘playing the game’ and a culture of fads. These are the conditions of the system and are not individual defects!

Much of the concern will evolve from fear and a step in to the unknown. Tonight the bbc is asking threat or opportunity?

Some recent (albeit limited) personal insight into working with a private university gives me great hope! In studying with a private university, as a critical consumer, I have no suspicion of an alternative agenda or poor quality. Far from it. I have encountered amazing support, unprecedented organisation and attention to detail, a student experience from which many state funded institutions could well learn heaps. I don’t suspect an alternative agenda because their agenda is clearly twofold – profit and quality.

This opinion is not meant to rubbish current provision in any way. Uk provision has great integrity, tradition and freedom. But we cannot ignore the Market emerging globally whether through online transnational systems or HE permitting in China. Challenging, but very interesting times ahead.

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