Why do we need a Convention?

The consultation on the Conservative Government’s Green Paper on Higher Education, Fulfilling our Potential, closed on Friday 15 January. Any reader of the Green Paper would be perplexed at the risks of the proposals for the sector, and the weakness of arguments in their favour. It is easy to be simultaneously worried by the threat and astounded by the lack of rigour in the document.

The Green Paper makes a number of radical proposals for the future of HE in England and Wales, including an elaborate new metric-based Teaching Excellence Framework; the replacement of funding councils and quality assurance bodies by a unitary Office for Students; and the fast-tracking of applications by private providers to recruit fee-paying students and brand themselves a University.

In isolation, these measures might appear incoherent. Together, they have a single purpose – to make it as straightforward as possible for private companies to enter the HE sector and access UK Government-backed tuition fees. By breaking with peer-review quality assurance, the TEF is a mechanism for this agenda.

The interests of private commercial providers with little or no track record in education are thereby placed above those of existing universities and their staff. The Green Paper policies risk a race to the bottom, where the ethos of the university sector – premised on academic freedom and rigorous debate – is simply abandoned in the struggle to recruit high fee-paying students.

  • What are we going to do about this threat?
  • What is at stake for society?
  • How should the UK scientific and academic community respond?
  • What is our alternative?

The Second Convention for HE is an opportunity to begin to develop answers to these questions, and to develop links and informal organisation to promote debate, to resist the Green Paper’s narrow vision, and to develop alternatives.

If you care about the future of Higher Education, join us at UCL on 27 February.

See also

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About Sean

Senior Research Fellow, Survey of English Usage, University College London
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