Browne’s HEFCE stitch-up

In Browne’s Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance when it comes to the task of allocating public money to the right university courses, we are told that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will decide (See pp. 25, 47, for e.g.)


Browne recommends that priority be given to “medicine, science and engineering…important to the well-being of our society…and the wider benefits they create.”

We don’t disagree that medicine is important, and given a choice of life or a lesson in French, clearly there isn’t a case to answer. But we currently recruit many overseas doctors and nurses who cost less than training up a home-grown one. If Browne’s proposals are all about maintaining cost-effectiveness then why can’t this continue? Perhaps then we could lower the £27000 that will face future young people and their parents.

Science and engineering? No-one has been able to define exactly what science means since the ancient Greeks so we’ll just have to assume it’s the physical sciences. Do they generate more money than a degree in English? Where’s the research to back that one up?

Engineering perhaps a stronger case but again where’s the evidence?

We should ask HEFCE for its impartial and thorough research into such matters. You’d think that the board would include both camps of the Science Wars (Arts/Humanities & Sciences) so that a broad and balanced appraisal of what makes money and what doesn’t could be achieved.

Yet quelle surprise just like Browne’s Comedy Review, we now have another comedy show. Just looking at the backgrounds of the board members is enough AGAIN to make you wonder if the UK is a liberal democractic society where all interests are represented. They may have abilities in their fields but like turkeys voting for Xmas they’re hardly going to vote for reforms which will harm their given interests. The days of believing in patrician impartiality are long, long gone.

There are 16 or so members of the board chaired by companies-chairman Tim Melville-Ross. The chief executive is science graduate, Sir Alan Langlands, and the members are law/history graduate Professor Madeleine Atkins, economics grad Alastair Balls, business exec Rob Douglas, mathematician Professor Ruth Farwell, lawyer Professor Malcolm Grant, history grad Patricia Hodgson, businessman René Olivieri, psychologist Professor Shirley Pearce, lawyer Anil Ruia, accountant Ed Smith, ecologist Professor Paul Wellings, lawyer John Widdowson, and last but not least maths and computing science grad Professor Tim Wilson.

So out of the 16 members of the board there are only four from Arts/Humanities unless we call economics and psychology ‘sciences’ – and no doubt with the influence of these board members that WILL be the case – then that’s down to 2, and even then its only one subject: history. No voice then for philosophy, sociology, languages, literature, dance, art, design, fashion, movies, music or theatre, it seems. The nails for the coffin have already been bought.

What would Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Russell, Chaucer, Austen, Greene, Orwell, Elgar, Chaplin, Coward, Olivier, Gielgud, Hitchcock, Lean, Minghella and William Shakespeare to name but a very, very few have to say about that, we wonder?!


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