The Origins of the Current ‘Crisis’ Facing British Universities: Ideology or Incrementalism
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This chapter discusses claims that the UK system of higher education faces a crisis of both legitimacy and adequate resources. Competing explanations for this possible ‘crisis’ are compared and placed in the context of changes to the funding and regulation of universities. At the beginning of the 2020s British higher education, and in particular its universities, have a problem of declining incomes together with rising demand from growth in numbers aged between 18 and 24. Before the impact of Covid 19 a high proportion of institutions were in financial difficulty and were reducing staff numbers. There had been growing criticism of universities, from within for becoming too managerialist, commercial and market-focussed, and from outside for failing to meet key needs of society and the economy; such as equality of access for those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds, and the production of graduates with the skills required by employers. Some commentators have attributed these challenges to the recent strength of right-wing and populist forces, and ideas which question the role and usefulness of higher education and support for increased government control and regulation. The chapter argues instead that the current problems of universities are not new, but have a longer history, and largely be explained by incremental changes to the funding of higher education over the last seventy years.
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