The Guardian~Observer Editorial – Higher Education: For Too Long, We’ve Avoided Debating The True Purpose Of Universities

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booksGuardian-Observer, May 25, 2014. What is the value of an ivory tower? Universities have long argued against a purely utilitarian measure, rightly challenging the notion that it can be measured in pounds and pence. But when a version of the question was put to several thousand undergraduates in research published last week, one in three said they were getting poor value for money for their degree.

Such a standard has never been central to the debate about our universities. Britain has always punched far above its weight in international league tables and universities have been fierce watchdogs of their independence, claiming interference from the outside would undermine the autonomy from which their very value is derived.

Add to this the difficulty of putting a price on enlightenment and intellectual advancement, and the relatively modest public spend on universities compared with schools or hospitals, and it is easy to see why. Even with pressure on public budgets, the sharp increase in numbers going to university and escalating student fees, the debate has been about how much students and the state should pay, not what the money should be spent on.

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