The University | Monday 4 June at 7.00pm
Chair: Paul Webley
Speakers: Christopher Cramer, Jo Beall, Stefan Collini, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Richard Sennett and David Willetts MP
Paul Webley (PW): Good evening everybody. My names Paul Webley. I am the Director of SOAS, School or Oriental and African Studies.
It’s a real pleasure to welcome you all tonight to the second of Zamyn's cultural forum events on global citizenship and it’s very good to see such a lively audience. I have spoken to a number of people already so I know we are going to have an interesting session.
Now last week the opening event focused on our notions of migration, foreignness and identity. This evening we are going to be considering the university in a global context.
Now we have got a 2 hour slot and the structure of the evening is as follows.
First my colleague Chris Cramer will introduce the theme of the evening, how it relates to the overall programme of events and then he will introduce the panel members.
I’ll say a few words and then ask each panel member to make an opening statement and we will sort of go down the tables this way so you will know where we are. After some reactions from the panel members and some questions from me I will open up the session to questions from the audience and I will make absolutely certain that we have at least 40 minutes for questions and answers from the audience.
I am just going to briefly introduce Professor Cramer and ask him to set the scene for this evening. Chris is Professor of Political Economy of Development as SOAS. He has worked in and on sub-Saharan Africa for more than 20 years teaching and conducting research on rural labour markets, commodity processing and violent conflict. He is currently head of our department of Development Studies though he is about to step down and enjoy a sabbatical leave. He also cycled 75 miles on Saturday just for fun. So as well as being a fine scholar he is also a very fit man. So Chris over to you.
Chris Cramer (CC): Thank you very much. Not that fit, just exhausted.
So good evening everybody and welcome to what is the second event in a series of events in the Zamyn Cultural Forum.
Thank you for coming in such amazing weather out there. It’s quite a dedication to come. But I would also like to thank some other people involved in this evening’s event. People and organisations that have made this event and the whole programme possible.
Our sponsors Accenture and Barclays and the other partners involved so that’s the Africa Progress Panel, my own university SOAS and the Tate and of course Zamyn itself. But I would before we get going like to note in particular the contribution of two individuals to this and the related events in this series.
I have been talking for, I was trying to think, it must be nearly two years to Michael Aminian, the creator of Zamyn, about this programme of events and it’s been an amazing I think journey is the word, the clique. It’s been a huge pleasure to be involved with Michael, to be drawn into his passionate commitment to doing something very difficult, to bringing together the world of the arts, of business and economics and that questioning edge of psychoanalysis. Very very big challenge. And I have also seen up close the immense amount of work and patience that Michael has put into and a determination in creating this programme. So we have him above all to thank.
And I know it’s taken a lot of other people at Zamyn and elsewhere to make this true but there is one more person I think we should mark the contribution of and thank for that which is Mark O’Daniel of Tate, Head of Public Programmes here and he has been just you know fizzing with ideas but also very firmly pragmatic in enabling this programme to take shape and to take place here so Mark thank you very much wherever you have gone to. There you are, thank you.
Some of you will have been to the first event last Wednesday evening and you will know that it was a hugely successful fascinating discussion of global citizenship, of exiles and migrants and of identity and today we are going to talk, we are going to shift a little bit, and talk about the production of knowledge, the circulation of ideas and the shaping of minds that takes place or is meant to take place in that varied institution called the university. And we will discuss this very much tonight in terms of the global context and challenges and opportunities within which universities function.
There are though various ways in which this evening’s topics, the themes, intersect those of the first event last week. Ideas travel with migrants and they are often remitted as well and knowledge, research, ideas are like the movement of people shaped and constrained by their interaction with global capital and resource flows, things that we will pick up on in future events within this series.
And above all, just as people movement is infringed by borders or regulated by identity cards so to the flow of ideas and knowledge is regulated by institutional boundaries, especially perhaps when bound up with co modification and market value.
Now the other night Saskia Sassen unsettled us all as an audience by exploring the ambiguities and the shifts in categorical identities partly thorough discussing shifts in the relationships between states and citizens and I would like to frame tonight’s discussion by recognising that historically over the very long term there’s always been a shifting relationship between states and universities and other groups and institutions. That relationship has often involved a kind of tension between the idea of university as a source of reproducing what we might now days call the human capital of authority of states and so on or of the church long gone and the idea of the university as a sort of thought beyond the needs of and even challenging often challenging power and authority.
Julien Bendea of course wrote in the early twentieth centre of ‘La Trahison des Clercs’, his critique of European intellectuals who were precisely not honouring what he saw as the role of challenging increasingly dictatorial political regimes then.
These issues, the relationship between authorities and universities, the tension between freedom of ideas and the claims to private property rights over research and education and so on they now days play out in new and profoundly globalised ways. We don’t always see those here clearly enough beyond the specifics of say the UK fees debate but these things are all connected and that’s why I hope tonight we’ll hear about and discuss and you’ll join in the debate around these issues.
So for example, to give you two examples, does technological change and the changes that make MOOCs for example possible. Does that mean we are entering a new stage of the global democratisation of higher education or is it a signal of a new phase of corporate concentration and control over knowledge and research emanating from within the heartlands of G8 countries?
Are research partnerships between say British and Indian researches funded perhaps by a UK funding agency, is that straightforwardly a way of generating an equitable shared effort and then producing a global public good of knowledge or do these partnership relationships often or sometimes represent the reproductions and the uncomfortable relations of hierarchy and resistance?
These and other things are some of the things I’m hoping and looking forward to hearing about so I will hand over without further ado to our panellists whom I would like to briefly introduce alphabetically to you.
So Jo Beall sits on the executive board of the British Council where she is also director education and society and before that she was a Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town in South Africa and before that she was in and for a while Director of the Development Studies Institute at the LSE and before that she has got a very rich going back in particular to her involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.
Stefan Collini is a well known Professor of Intellectual history and English Literature at the University of Cambridge. He is a well known public commentator and among other things he is the author of ‘What are Universities for?’ Maybe we will find out tonight. He is also written on intellectuals in Britain and I think currently he is just back from 9 months in the States where he has been working on a project on the history of literary criticism in the UK so I hope he is not still two jetlagged after coming back.
And then we have Pratap Bhanu Mehta who is President of the Centre for Policy Research in New Deli. Highly prestigious think tank and research centre there. He also sits on the National Security Advisory Board in India and is a member of the World Economic Forums Global Governance Council. He’s taught at Harvard, JNU another school of law at NYU as well and is an editorial consultant and contributor to the Indian Express and in the past has also been closely involved with the National Knowledge Commission in India.
And then we have and are very pleased to have Richard Sennett a distinguished sociologist who teaches both at NYU where he is University Professor of Humanities and at the LSE where he is the Centennial Professor of Sociology. The author of many books including the Craftsman and Together: the Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation and currently working on a project on a book on urban design.
We are then very pleased to welcome the Right Honourable David Willetts, the UK Minister for Universities and Science. He has been an MP since 1992 I think and has held a number of posts but also has written on social policy, on social and economic affairs and not lease as the author of The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers took their Children’s Future and Why They Should Give it Back. An interesting comment on that in The Times when it was published in 2010 before the last election was Matthew Parris’s saying that this is a book that takes the voter right above and beyond party politics.
And then slightly out of political step I would like to introduce and hand over to the Director of SOAS, my boss that is, Paul Webley. Paul has been a director of SOAS since 2006 where he is also a Professor of Economics and Psychology. He specialises in tax compliance, somewhat relevant these days, and also in the economic behaviour of children and perhaps that’s about how they work out how to make their parents give them back the future that they nicked. And on that note I would like to hand back over to Paul your Chair for the evening.
PW: Thanks for that Chris.
All of our speakers this evening have an interest in experiencing universities and have valuable perspectives to contribute but you might ask just at the outset why I am chairing this event. SOAS has got a special focus on Asia and Africa as a global take on all issues and the position and function of universities is not exception which is why as Chris has indicated when we were approached to be involved in this we were so excited by it.
During my seven years as director my perceptions and understandings of the role of universities, what universities are for, has been challenged by talking to our students, to our staff, by visiting universities in other countries, by technological changes and through funding issues. So I am all too aware of things like the intensification of competition between universities because both within the UK and internationally because part of my day job is to ensure that my institution exceeds in this competition.
I am also familiar with the huge range of challenges facing universities across the world. I have been to Korean universities where they have had anxieties about how do they integrate international academic staff who don’t speak Korean. I have visited Kurdish universities who have been worried about basic infrastructure, the teaching of English and then how to ensure universities of Tongli what do they do about political interference and I have discussed with the Minister of Higher Education of the South Sudan how you build an entire university system from scratch.
I have also witnessed some very positive trends. There have been some significant moves towards the democratisation of knowledge with the internet, the growth of open access to academic journals and in the UK and other countries freedom of information legislation.
There has also been, Chris referred to the historical side and I think this is important, a massive increase in the proportion of young adults that attend universities across the world. The highest participation rates are now in Korea where 60% of young adults have a degree. This is a huge proportion and very different from a few decades ago. And in most countries now women make up more than 50% of students.
So the issues, the only reason for saying all of this is the issues that we are going to discuss this evening are not theoretical ones. They are not just some interesting academic debates. These are very live issues for my colleagues, for me, for our students, for our staff and I am looking forward to being enlightened by the speakers and the audience but I would just like us to bear one thing in mind. The session is called The University but that terms hides a huge variation in form, function, purpose and practice. Universities range in size from what 1000 students to in the case of open universities over a million students so some universities are huge. They may focus on one discipline only or they may have comprehensive coverage. They may concentrate only on undergraduates. They may focus on teaching more than research or vice versa. They may be vocational they may not. The students may be full time resident on a campus or they may be part time resident in their own homes. You may have in your mind the model of an ideal or idealised university but one think I would just like you to bear in mind when you are listening to our panellists is what the range of institutions are embodying the idea of a university these days and it is hugely varied across the world at size, function and so on.
So without more ado I am going to pass over to Pratap to kick us off. Over to you.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta (PBM): Thanks very much. It feels intimidating to be in front of an audience that has given up this lovely weather to be here. And also a lot of what I will say in the next 4 minutes or so I learned from many of the colleagues in this panel.
What I thought I’d do since I’ve been asked to give a kind of opening comment is to just sort of kick us off with kind off four or five propositions that I will just sort of lay out as to me the kind of defining that define the debate or the relationship between globalisation and the idea of the university and I will just lay them out very sort of pointedly hopefully as provocations.
I think the first thing to remember when we talk about globalisation of higher education is that the current phase of globalisation that we are seeing in higher education is a product of two fundamental imbalances in the global system.
The first is a demographic imbalance. You have lots of rich countries with aging populations and lots of developing countries with large numbers of young people not finding enough opportunities for education in their home countries and this is actually a fundamental driver of this globalisation. It’s not some sort of you know kind of ideological thinking about what globalisation might do to pedagogy. In this case demography matters a lot.
The second thing to remember is that education globalisation at this point, particularly I think this is true for the UK it may not be true for the US which is an outlier in many respects, is a product of massive governance failures in the countries of the south. Why do tens of thousands of Indian students go to Britain, Australia? You know there are five thousand Indian students doing medicine in China at the moment. It’s telling why right. They are paying large sums of money simply because as for the domestic systems are not able to respond to the kinds of demands that are being placed on them.
So we have to recognise that the drivers are these two imbalances and how these imbalances get resolved will shape the future of the globalisation of higher education.
The second proposition I want to lay out is the following. There is a debate, there is a global debate, and this debate I mean you can pick up the British press, you can pick up the Indian press, the Chinese press. It’s roughly the same terms of debate about the relationship between universities and the job market.
Now just to provoke you I would like to put out the following proposition. In the current conjuncture of globalisation there is a large structural fact that we are struggling to come to terms with and that is the following: that wages, productivity and employment generation do not all seem to go in the same direction. Some countries have shown high productivity growth but not enough jobs being created, jobs being created but at stagnant or lower wages.
Now the big debate is what is the role of universities in as it were producing this structural impasse. My own view for what it is worth is that I think that universities are being asked to bear the brunt of something that it actually a much deeper economic and sociological as it were structural transformation of the world economy where we are looking or we are assuming that if we simply got higher education right somehow we would actually solve the structural problem of jobless growth or stagnant wages and so on. And we really need to think hard about this proposition because a lot of assumptions are being made about how it is that education as contribution has contributed to as it were our inability to solve this dilemma if you like.
The third proposition I want to lay out is that a lot of the challenges that universities are facing have got to do not so much with the logic of globalisation as much as with the logic of democracy. And the logic of democracy being in a sense because we can’t name it we give it another name, globalisation and I have two particular things in mind.
The first is there is a kind of inherent tension in higher education. On the one hand we want to expand higher education 60% gross enrolment ratios in Korea. India is aiming for gross enrolment ratio of 30%-40%. On the other hand by its very nature higher education is about distinction, setting yourself apart from everybody else.
Now as far as I know there is only one system that is very self-consciously manages to preserve this distinction. That was the German system right. There is a vocational stream and then there is something called higher education the research university or something. Most democracies will not tolerate that distinction right. Either because there is a kind of implicit hierarchy and if there is that implicit hierarchy then it is a question that society needs to answer about why it has kind of put up with this hierarchy.
And so what is happening in a lot of universities, I think it’s true of Britain, I think it’s true of India, is that there is an attempt to convert the traditional research university into something of a hybrid model which is part remedial school education, part vocational system, part sort of honours undergraduate degree, part high end research university which is making it hard to answer the question what is the fundamental identity of that university. Because you actually cant in a sense separate these different functions out. It’s going to be politically hard to do, it’s going to be sociologically hard to do.
The second proposition is that wherever there is democracy there will also be bureaucracy. It is all propositioned in nineteenth century social theory but particularly applicable to our education why? Because a democratic system will demand accountability from the system from bureaucracies. Most historical universities are kind of elite clubs self generated you know sort of products of you know various crazy ideas. Witherspoon doing this, Presbyterians doing that, Jesuit’s doing something or the other. That logic simply cannot function in a modern democracy and particularly where public funds are at stake.
But once you are in the realm of accountability essentially you are looking for something that’s measureable. More importantly something which is commeasurable, where you can compare one thing to the other. Is it worth doing X more than doing Y? And even more importantly some measure that is non-discretionary which does not involve any measure of judgement because there is a suspicion in democracy that elite clubs spear reviews, communities of judgement will build in their mechanisms of exclusion right which is how universities historically operate.
But once you take on all these three characteristics then there is only one unambiguous measure that satisfies all three criteria and that is money. The beauty of money is commeasurable. You can measure it without discretion. It’s egalitarian in that sense. And I think there is a serious logic of accountable that I think is constraining that is shaping universities in different ways in all our democratic systems.
Last and final proposition is universities have what is called the 1% problem and I think it impinges on universities in a way that’s peculiar. The distinction David Gable made between the 1% and the 99%.
In the case of universities that distinction in a different way is particularly relevant because for the production of knowledge let’s face it the top 1% and the top 2% matter a lot more than almost anybody else. It’s true. It happens to be so right. The challenge is that you have a gigantic vacuum cleaner for the top 1% which is called the United States of America which has essentially the logic of the US system, the dominance of the US system is that the negative externalities of that system is that it raises the cost for everybody else for running cheaper education systems and in some ways that structural imbalance in between the dominance of the US system and the rest of the world is making the degrees of the freedom that the rest of the world has to draft its own education systems immensely narrow.
All of the larger sociological phenomena I would submit to you are the ones that are impinging and making it very hard to answer this question what is the identity of the university but more importantly who should define the identity of that university. The advantage that the US system has is that is has great tolerance for lots of elite groups, all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. Most other democratic systems do not have that kind of tolerance where somebody says look I want to set up a crazy religious cult university let me do it.
So the political question we are all going to face is who should get to define the identity of the university? Students? Facility? Bureaucrats? The wider democratic demos? That I think is going to be the question that defines the nature of globalisation in higher education that we experience.
MW: Jo over to you.
Jo Beall (JB): Thank you.
I have been asked to talk about my experience at the University of Cape Town in South Africa as much as my experience of the UK education system and I think what that dual perspective offers is insights into some of the issues around international higher education from both lenses.
So if we take globalisation which is a fact and if we recognise that it proceeds selectively which it does I think the common thing that I would identify both in the UK and in South Africa was a failure of most students academics and university managers to recognise that higher education is no exception to that rule.
We did at the British Council a study of UK undergraduates in 2011 and 2012 asking them about their international aspirations and how they thought about globalisation. What was interesting is that most students understood what globalisation was, could define it, they recognised the term. A majority were internationally aware and indeed many had travelled but very few had made a link between that experience and their future employability or their future live. So they saw a gap year as something that you would do but they didn’t see that as important for their employability.
Similarly and for different reasons students in South Africa saw the problems that they faced in a context like South Africa as so overwhelming the project of nation building, of developing and maintaining a bricks economy so critical that it was perhaps less important to be engaged globally.
Now in both cases that applied to the majority of students but there are select groups in both the UK and in Cape Town who were very much aware of the importance of global connectivity, international awareness, intercultural fluency. In the UK it’s the pre-92 universities who held that view, students in the arts and social sciences rather than the sciences and most particularly students of modern language which is perhaps not surprising. In South Africa the students who were interested in global citizenship and international opportunities were also amongst a more elite group, were amongst the international students there the majority of whom were from the rest of Africa and less so those students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.
And so if you just look at the issues through the lense of students both in this country and abroad I think the fact that globalisation proceeds selectively is something that we have to recognise both at the broader level and at the level of the individual.
What I am going to do is just go through three areas where I will lay out why I think an international perspective in higher education is critical and then come back to the experience of the University of Cape Town and say something about where this leaves a university in Africa.
So what we know is that demographics mean that areas of high supply of higher education have more limited demand whereas of low supply and China would be an obvious example here have historically had less supply of higher education so that basic demographic reality means internationalisation has grown.
I think the second broad issue is that the financial crisis from 2008 onwards has led to greater competition for international students amongst traditional mature markets and at the same time economic growth moving east has meant that there is much more competition for those same students from higher education institutions in emerging economies.
I think the third broad political economy aspect is that most governments and I am sure David will say something about the imperious for the UK, most governments are looking at higher education as a critical part of their development and economic planning, their economic strategies for the future. And what that means for many emerging countries is that there is competition for the most talented students and researches. So Singapore for example is investing as a government huge amounts of money attracting the best researchers to up the ante in terms of their offer as a higher education and research hub.
What does that mean? If we take the three areas of university activity being teach and learning, research and public engagement. What does that context mean? Around students the competition for international students, what we do know is that the absolute number of students who are internationally mobile has risen very dramatically in the ten years up to 2009 but we also recognise now that is slowing off.
Perhaps the most interesting factor is that the proportion of students enrolled in tertiary education who are internationally mobile has not changed. It's around 2%. So although the absolute numbers have gone up the proportion remains the same. That has huge implications for the competition to attract international students, for the importance of transnational education which is partnerships between universities in the UK or US and emerging markets which is where most of the transnational education experiences are and it reinforced the idea that globalisation is a selective process. So its anxieties that students are going to flood in to countries abroad are unfounded.
Why should we care about whether the students are internationally mobile? Why should we care about them having an international experience? Research that we did with employers in the UK demonstrated that employer’s want the soft skills include language skills, international awareness, intercultural competence and want it badly. It was considered to be more important amongst the sample that we interviewed than the university that a student went to or class of degree they got.
We weren’t sure if this was just a UK phenomenon and so we repeated this study across ten countries looking at employers in government, not for profit and private sector across ten countries and it was confirmed particularly for not for private and private sector that internal experience and savoir faire was critical.
So it’s for that reason that some of the best universities and the most mature systems have had outward student mobility as part of what they have promoted. I am sure David will talk about his initiatives in the UK to promote outward student mobility, something that is very much looked forward to given that we have about 1-3% of our students going abroad compared to an aspirational target of 20% for the Bologna countries.
But I think it’s not just for theses efficiency reasons or employability reasons that we should be concerned about students having an international experience. It is also about those intercultural skills and the whole notion of global citizenship that this series is about.
We confronted at University of Cape Town very demands and challenges where we had a semester study abroad programme that brought in students from the better off countries. Very few options for low income South African students to go abroad. So a lot of work was around raising funds and working with the diaspora the South African diaspora to facilitate those opportunities but also to create a nationalisation at home programme and I’ll come back to that. Something that would enable students who couldn’t move for whatever reasons to work and to have that exposure.
Have I got time for a little bit more?
So the other things to briefly mention is transnational education. This is where universities from different countries come together. UK universities offering a UK qualification in the university abroad. There are many models from the distance education of the Open University to branch campuses such as Nottingham.
I just want to say a couple of things from the perspective of the host country. First of all many of the transnational education initiatives are about students and about programmes and often to meet the demands of employers and I think that’s very important and many host countries use private or transnational education providers of education to meet labour market demands. However the divorcing of transnational education from the research imperative of universities is perhaps a problem and that’s something we can come back to.
Transnational education started off sometimes as an initiative on the part of host countries to make up for deficits, to play catch up but other countries are much more defensive and sometimes very rightly so about for providers about being swamped, about it distorting the education arena and in South Africa at the University of Cape Town we had many experiences where universities would come in, they would do a programme with us. It would then be a case of them poaching our staff, setting up a campus of their own down the road. So I think it’s those sorts of things we need to think about. How the host countries engage with those issues. I think India has been doing a lot of thinking about that recently.
The last to say is a brief word on research. The challenge for universities in Africa and more broadly is that often they are in a position where they are in a position where they are expected to provide the labour force of tomorrow. The challenge is to combine that imperative with being part of a global research community and getting that balance right and I think that was the balance we tried to strike at University of Cape Town and I think successfully but it’s an ongoing battle not to feel necessary just to produce the workforce and not to produce the research and innovation.
MW: Thank you Jo.
Richard over to you.
Richard Sennett (RS): Thank you.
I want to talk a little about what is good research and what works to promote it and to destroy it and I thought I might start by just sharing with you an experience that I have been having the last 25 years in China with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
When the Chinese began in late 80’s, early 90’s to put serious money into research they had what I would call a shopkeeper model of what they were going to do. Which is to say they were going to have very tightly defined research with clear outcomes, testable hypothesises, no waste in the programmes, clear methodology and so on. And they put a lot of money in the social sciences and in technology into this kind of work. Really tight you know. Real value for money kind of research. And the results were dismal. Dismal! Boring! Predictable! And after about 4 or 5 years of this people began saying these results are dismal, predictable and more important there is nothing to patent.
So there began to be a real period of self questioning about what it is that produces good quality research which moreover you can patent and the result of that, and I take some credit for the label, is what could be called the MIT model which is where I used to teach as opposed to the shopkeeper model.
The MIT model is MIT’s recognition that they have to spend a lot of money and that only some of this money will produce results. You can’t predict in advance what somebody will find, that negative results are important, that if somebody abandons an experiment in the middle of it saying this is not worth pursing that’s productive if they do something else. That this is the way in which you produce new knowledge. You do it through we commonly say through trial and error. That means you do it through waste and even more important the recognition of failure.
Now, if you were painters you’d know instantly what the MIT is about. You begin working on a canvas. It looks dreadful. You scrape the whole thing off and you start again. And that’s part of the creative process. That same thing is true in science. Good science. Even good social science of which there isn’t too much but that’s another story. But good science works the way good art does which is that it enables trial and error and to do so it takes seriously the idea of risk which is that something may turn out not to be worth doing. And the reason MIT has done this is not because we were all a bunch of artists in the laboratory but because in fact this procedure which has been followed since the days of a very enlightened President Ron Wiesner has produced tonnes of patents. The School has made itself rich by doing something that looks on the service of it not very sensible and by the shopkeeper model the MIT model is not sensible except it works.
Now I guess the argument I want to make to you, I have watched this process unfold over the last 25 years, is that the Chinese who have embraced this MIT model alter the good we in the West except for places like Stanford, MIT and some really quite less prestigious but equally innovate places are going back the other direction. We’re going back to the shopkeeper model. Governments are forcing this on us. Of course there is no money so if there is no money how can you waste the little that you have? Isn’t it better to get a certain result even if that result is poor quality? At least you have got something. You can say I carried out the experiment and it wasn’t worth doing but I finished it.
The shopkeeper model also has much more deeper and I think structurally insidious forms of it. For instance, our professor mentioned the issue of accountability. Accountability is the shop keeper’s ghost in the machine because accountability means accountable to whom. If you’re Steve Jobs or even more Jonathan Ive who is his great design innovator your accountable to one person. You’re not accountable to committee and the committee that recognises that you may produce what Jonathan Ives did in fact produce, not to me mate you know, the practical aspect of this is if you can patent it, it’s yours and ours as well.
But to understand what I am talking about, we are walking away from the idea of discretionary spending. Were walking away from the idea of personal judgement and sponsoring research. The Chinese now, apart from the huge corruption that’s in their academic system, the people who are not corrupt and there are many who aren’t are saying yes in the end what good science is about is a judgement that this is a good scientist so give him his head whereas here we are saying it can’t be that. We need objective criteria all right.
I would like to just say one final, well actually I want to make two comments about this. You all know William Empson’s famous bold move that the arts are unfair ok. And what I am describing is a situation which is unfair and involves waste, it involves personal judgement. It, on the part of the researcher involves risks that can turn out to be very self-destructive and so on.
But the final thing I would like to say to you about this is do not equate what I am saying with the issue of hierarchy. I just speak very personally about this. If you look in the American Ivy League universities which I know much better than I know Britain, the variation in the quality of research is immense. For instance, I said this in print so I will say it to you, the Harvard sociology department which is one of the most well endowed sociology departments in the world produces really mediocre work whereas next door to it Tufts University who nobody has heard of produces fantastic research with no money but they have followed the MIT model and they have hired lots of young people who they have given a free hand rather than put on a regime of RAE, sorry what do you call them now here? RAF’S? Publishable articles? Tufts got to be a great place to do research because it says take 5 years if it takes you that long. Do whatever it takes to make it work well rather than make it work.
So I think this issue, what I want to leave you with is that the issue of quality research is not an issue of elitism and we have got to think that through in order to support places like Tufts of whatever its British equivalent is, that are not part of this elite structure but may contain wonderful researchers in it or have a research ethos that is in the end going to produce good quality research and even David lots of British patents.
PW: Thank you Richard.
The Minister was taking notes so I think we are ok.
Stefan Collini (SC): Well when I was asked to come and talk at this panel I assumed there would be a lot of people here, people on the panel and in the audience, who know a great deal about universities around the world and who know a lot about the nuts and bolts of financing and governance and so on and so I thought I would try and talk about something that’s likely not to be mentioned. Talk about something that might even be a little provocative or unpopular. So what I have now done is put myself in the paradoxical position and I have come prepared to talk about creativity and originality and by doing that am going to be absolutely mimicking what Richard Sennett has just said! You don’t need us both on the same panel I think is the motto for the future.
The reason I was thinking along these lines is that obviously there has been a huge expansion of higher education in the world and will continue to be in the immediate coming decades in terms of numbers of students and numbers of institutions and lots of the institutions that are set up or are now expanded do a range of as we all know very worthwhile often very practical things which may be related to kinds of vocation training, maybe related to stimulus of the local economy, maybe related to preparing the next generation of schoolteachers and so on which in certain social or cultural circumstances are absolutely essential things to do.
But the question that I wanted to raise and this is as you will see just really another version of the question that Richard has just been talking about, is what do we think are the conditions that can conduce to high quality intellectual activity?
I think it’s not if you have enough political will and a moderate amount of resources. It is not that difficult to produce a middle level technical institute. You can train a lot of people to do a lot of useful things. It’s much more difficult and seems in a way almost an elusive goal to aim to set up or to convert one of your existing institutions into an absolutely high level hub of open ended top quality enquiry. And really I think the questions I want to put is why that is and what things we might think about apart from the financial and governance aspects and I am just going to mention two very obvious ones and as I say all I going to do is just repeat what Richard said and put these in other words but I think the first of these is something to do with the ethos and moral that you have among your academic and that has got to be fundamentally something to do with a kind of autonomy.
What Richard was talking about just now with the MIT model is in part and example of this, of the willingness to let people have their head as it were but I think it can be generalised a bit further to say that it’s something about encouraging a shared commitment to that scholarly enterprise independent of its practical benefits. And unless you can in some ways support this among your academic faculty you are forever as it were going to be turning out very good lab technicians but not very good original creative scientists and the same for other fields of enquiry and I think this is where something that has been touched on by several speakers already now comes in. there is this inevitable tension between the conditions for creativity and the conditions for democratic accountability and we are all familiar with this in our own lives now and its already been touched upon.
Thee thing that has been mentioned so far is the need to recognise that at some point judgement will have to play a part which mere measurement, quantities of measurement, cant altogether do and I certainly support that. But I think the other aspect of it as I say is that you are going at some point to have to be willing and this is a difficult thing to do if you are in any responsible position in an institution and more difficult still I think if you are responsible to an electorate as some kind of elected politician or official. The thing you are going to have to do is try to explain to those whom you are accountable to that the best way to make the academics in your top level institution serve their purpose best is to leave them alone a good deal and that is a very unnatural thing to do. It’s absolutely essential that we provide constant reports on what they are doing and that we measure it against what other people are doing and so on and some of those things are indeed necessary but the difficult task I think is to find ways especially if you are establishing new institutions is to find ways to conduce to having that ethos where a professional commitment to the shared project rather than any form of alienated labour which is doing it out of some kind of compulsion or fear of surveillance is what animates your academic staff and that’s not an easy thing to create.
The other also rather elusive condition I think that helps here and this is one that is a good deal rarer than the first is it helps no end to have some form to have some form of public discourse which is effective in your society which can give voice to the long term purposes of universities. That’s to say we are all very familiar, any daily paper will provide us with new examples, we are all very familiar with the language of contribution to economic growth. Indeed an important aim. But we are not at all familiar with other ways of talking about the long term intellectual, cultural, scientific, social and eventually economic benefits that open ended enquiry brings to their host societies if it is conducted in sufficiently high levels and this is again whereas you can hear I am in a way just restating something that Richard said that is that you have got to find some vocabulary for generalising some of the apparently wasteful or unattractive aspects of what he was calling the MIT model. I think you have got to find a language about creativity and a language about autonomy that will have some purchase in public debate when confronted with a very hard edged language about short terms economic benefits and again that is not easy to do but if you do not develop some attempt at languages of that kind I think in whatever society you are where your setting up new institutions what you will end up with are again those relatively limited intellectually sometimes somewhat mediocre quite useful institutions which are among the institutions we need but not what if we want to have good universities we mainly need.
I think this also does have in a different and perhaps unexpected way a so called global dimension in that one of the things that we should think about for the next couple of decades is how far there’s a kind of cultural dependence being re-enacted in this expansion of higher education because the intellectual agenda for so many disciplines is being set by a very small number of very well supported first world institutions and all the while that its difficult to develop any rival institutions all the while that the other countries are committed to what I calling the short terms or practical conception of these institutions, they will find I think that they are in the medium and long term very much in the cultural and intellectual shadow of those big intellectual power houses.
It is I think in other words something that is urgent for a range of what have often up until now been called developing countries all these vocabularies as you know as well as I are not very satisfactory but for a range of such countries it is not just a matter of prestige or amour propre it is a matter of whether they can develop the right kind of intellectual enquiry at the right kind of level and not simply imported.
So my concluding thought is that it’s very difficult to sit up here and hold forth about the aspects of intellectual enquiry which are the most elusive, which can seem to be in some cases rather snobbish, which as again Richard said often are assumed to be related to an elite hierarchy of institutions and nonetheless want to say as I do want to say to you that I think those are absolutely fundamental questions about what universities do and that for any society in the world these are not something which can simply be bypassed in pursuit of some short term economic goal if that society want to have good universities then I think these are among the things it’s going to have to develop.
PW: David you’re in the position of sweeper now.
David Willetts MP (DW): Thank you Paul and thank you for the opportunity to join this discussion and I think what I had better to let me respond to the Sennett/ Collini critique and then move on then to the globalisation issue.
Richards’s examples I thought were very illuminating. He began with exampled from the American Ivy League Stanford, MIT. Largely privately financed and with substantial endowments and insofar as they receive public money related to projects and programmes so this free enquiry and I can completely support the model isn’t that US Department for Education is writing a cheque for the philosophy department at Stanford, when they write a cheque for Stanford it’s to do this project in electrical engineering but Stanford separately has endowments that enable them to function in a way that Richard describes as well which is completely animal.
We are fortunate we have got some universities and notably but not only Oxbridge that are kind of in that situation and I share Richard and Stefan’s admiration for it and love of it.
The Tufts example is where it gets trickier and Richard being scrupulously honest about these things then sights Tufts. So what would we do if we wanted to support somehow those social sciences at Tufts?
I think the thought process might go as follows. Well first of all we should keep politicians out of it and what we need to do is have a group of scientists themselves who will assess by their own peer review standards the quality of the social science emerging from a range of universities so that we can spot talent and high quality work in a place like Tufts. So you would invite your leading social scientists to sit on a panel where they would identify Tufts.
You would then say it is very important that we don’t specify to any social sciences what actual work they should do so when these social scientists have identified the work we will then give the money to that university with no strings attached for it to spend on whatever projects it wishes and that is currently how approximately £2,000,000,000 goes to our universities is absolutely an attempt through public policy to do something like supporting that social science at Tufts.
If anyone has any better model of how you could allocate public money not the Ivy Leagues in on the big endowment, allocate public money in some model where Richard can say confidently I know they do very good social science at Tufts and it should be supported, the question is what is the way you would use public money to do that and I think the model of a group of leasing social scientists doing peer review and not incidentally supposed to be looking at the prestige of the journal in which this work appeared would be quite a good model. In fact it is largely being developed by the academic profession.
The extra tweak is you might after 10 or 20 years of this say because we have been focussing so much on the quality of their academic output we are slightly worried that all they are focusing on is getting those articles out that meet the highest academic standard so we need to get their heads off the academic treadmill of the excellent articles and invite them not all of them invite lets think of a low percentage say ten percent of the evidence they were to be also something where in whatever, however broadly they define it their work has made an impact on the outside world. It could be a play has been produced drawing on an interpretation of this author from the literary critic or scholar in our department. It could be as a result of this insight in social science a public policy has shifted somewhere in a developing country. Invite them to look out beyond the production of their excellent peer reviewed articles, and that is essentially the model we have. In other words it isn’t, it may be imperfect though I have to say nobodies defined a one that’s much better that involves the use of public money that’s why the Ivy League is a bit of red herring really, but that is where this model comes from. In other words this is not an assault on the values that Richard and Stefan are advocating, it’s an attempt through British public policy and the spending of really quite a substantial amount of public spending, incidentally not being reduced even in this age of austerity, we’ve actually even managed to maintain it, we’ve even managed to maintain it, it’s an attempt to deliver the Tufts challenge.
Now that however as Stefan said is part of higher education, it’s not the full story of higher education and if you’re sitting in India you probably think our institutes, our IITs advance institutes for technology our a bit of a disappointment really, they were funded on that type of way. We’re going to have great smart Indian thinkers doing first rate science research in India without any of these constraints and you visit them and they feel like Oxbridge or Stamford and they have beautiful sites carved out of them in leading Indian cities and they’re pleasant environments and they basically have not flourished in a way that India hoped they would, there are people that know far more about India than me, but from my experience of visiting them is that of frustration. So it’s not easy to do and I go all around the world and if I added up the different numbers of different opposite numbers I’ve made of different governments that have told me their governments commitment is to get five universities into the world top hundred, it’s probably adds up to a thousand by now after all the visits I’ve paid. It’s harder to do in practise and we’re very fortunate it’s partly path dependent. We’re very fortunate that in a small number of countries like Britain and the U.S we’ve got some of those types of institutions. We also incidentally tried to sustain freedom of inquiry by the other thing you might try to do if you were trying to preserve this Richard/Stefan model which we should try to do is you might also say, why don’t we give money to our leading learned societies for them to hand over no strings attached to people they think are doing are brilliant researchers without any requirements on output whatsoever. So we also do that and also incidentally not reduced either in the age of austerity, so this British academy the royal society do that with public money that we provide to them where we have absolutely no view on who it should go to or what they are doing, we just tell them here’s the money for you to give out to people who you think are potentially great scientists. Meanwhile you have, so that carries on and that is something we can be very fortunate to have in this country and America.
Meanwhile there’s the subject we’re also trying to talk about today. Meanwhile the Indian Education Minister says to me he wants 40 million more university students in India. The Indonesian education minister says to me that he wants a quarter of a million more university students in Indonesia year after year growing each year by a further quarter of a million. So my next question to Richard and Stefan is, right so you can do a kind of Oakshottian prose poem about these beautiful great institutions where freedom and intellectual enquiry flourishes and I love it myself I can I’ve ever written on or two in my time, though never as good as Stefan’s, but is that totally relevant when the Indonesian ministers comes knocking, says right I want another quarter of a million a year, how is Britain going to help? And the answer is it doesn’t actually massively help them in their challenge, and although Stefan I thought just slightly dismissively said of course you also have people who produce technicians or teacher training or things like that. If you’re sitting in India or Indonesia these are completely legitimate ambitions to have. These are also legitimate and valuable roles of higher education institutions. Is there any responsibility that anybody thinks sitting in and Oxford or Cambridge common room they have to help the world to meet those challenges. Fifty years ago we produced the Robins report which was about the challenge of expansion in Britain. The world now faces globally the equivalent of the Robins moment. A desperate hunger for the massive expansion for higher education in a range of crucial countries that are going through a kind of demographic sweet spot with a surge in the number of young people, where they becoming middle income, where there are enlighten governments that want to see their young people better educated than ever before they’re looking at what if anything the west can offer. And I have to say on that, Stamford, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE brilliant, but on that to be absolutely honest the west has pretty much not offered much at all, because offering something to help in those type of requests that I get involve rather different types of models, because what you’ve heard from Richard and Stefan is that kind of trusteeship model of the university, we have this incredibly precious intellectual (inaudible) and we want to pass it on to the next generation. And that as I say I completely respect, I have no desire to change that, we are not forcing anyone to do anything differently, but there is separately a kind of enterprise model which is if you really did want to say I’m going to try to deliver higher education to half a million people in developing countries in the next five years, what would you try do? You probably concluded that you need professional management and you need some kind of access to private capital and you need some kind of standardised operational model so that you could roll out higher education, not of the sort that Richard and Stefan love, and not a threat to them, but you would say the only we can provide India with the teachers or Indonesia with the engineers is some type of model like that. And other countries do it, America has several organisations that do it, India incidentally does as well, The Amity Foundation, monitor mass delivery of higher education, and what Britain has not done because we are transfixed with this alternative model completely admirable, I always have to say this I’m not against it all we have completely failed to rise to that challenge.
So the closest we’ve got is saying to China, desperate for mass higher education, we might set up two campuses and then after five or ten years they might have about two thousand students each, that’s kind of ambitious internationalisation in the world of English higher education, but it doesn’t really rise to the challenge. If we’d wanted to rise to the challenge we’d have to look at alternative models (inaudible) of alternative ways of organising higher education, not forcing this change on any existing higher education institute that didn’t want to do it. We’d have to think how would we organise ourselves if we were serious about mass delivery of higher education in Indonesia or Colombia or Mexico or Turkey, what would we actually do? And you have to organise and engage in these types of challenges and I, slightly to my disappointment no single English university has tried really to do that.
Probably it’s going to be happening by some version of MOOC’s this is my final point to touch on. It’s probably going to be some version of MOOC’s. And we asked some questions about MOOC’s in its early days, I think that they can deliver a high quality education experience, probably the use of education analytics which I suspect isn’t going to be used in the institutes that Richard and Stefan were rightly praising, but if you do want to know how someone is learning the maths they need at the higher education level probably knowing every single stroke they do on the keyboard as they work through a set of maths problems and exactly what point they go wrong and whether 50% of people go wrong in the same way or the different ways they go wrong and what you do to help put them right is probably in the long run quite an important advance in educational, in pedagogy and educational technology and I think it’s going to be harnessed. It will probably not be purely online it will probably be interaction with others, it may involve concentration in a single platform which I would regret but there are certainly people on the west coast of America think that’s what’s going to happen, and after we’ve had Amazon and eBay and we’ve had Google they think that’s there’s going to be a single H.E. platform which around the world is used to access online courses and that they think they are winning that race because Britain was very slow to recognise what was happening. You may find that there is a significant British platform probably Future Learns, sponsored by the Open University, you may find that there is no single platform that wins out and my very final point it may paradoxical also offer some kind of support to those more established and conventional universities that we have in England because one way in which existing universities will use this is as a recruitment device and what the experts tell me is one of the things that happens when the internet arrives within a new service industry and essentially higher education is on the receiving end of the arrival of the online experience, one of the crucial things that can happen is disintermediation.
So university that adhere to rely on agents in other countries to help them find their students sometimes we’re not completely defensible and straightforward arrangements either, we’ll find there is this new, they have this new set of potential recruits who are doing a university course online, but even that will face them with a challenge which would be very uncomfortable.
Imagine that you are a leading British university with a well let’s say we’ve got a social sciences department like Tufts and imagine that you have fifty thousand international student who want to start doing social science, who are doing social science on an online course, and incidentally these online courses although often start with things like electrical engineering and artificial intelligence, the good news for humanities is this enormous hunger to do things like philosophy, history of art, it’s not all stem subjects. Well say you’ve got fifty thousand people doing social science, now there’s a very high dropout rate, very few people will complete a course in the conventional route now, maybe five thousand will complete the course, and of those five thousand who complete the course imagine there are 10% of them who think they are as least as good if not better than my own first year social science students at my own, studying physically, at my university. You still got five hundred students that you’ve identified around the world who are now potential recruits for university and that could well be larger than your current social sciences undergraduate social science numbers. So even then you will face a challenge do we expand do we welcome more oversees students, what do we do? And it will be very interesting to see the reaction of English universities, but that agenda is, I think the global agenda, and there was one practical thing we could do in the next months which help progress it and that would be that the millennium development goals currently only describe education in terms of schooling, they have nothing about tertiary education or further education in them.
The history of Britain would be very different if we had not had any universities until we had achieved 100% literacy. That is the model hat in the past twenty or thirty years the development establishment has imposed on a range of countries including notably sub Saharan Africa, where there is sometimes I meet fellow ministers with deep resentment at the focus on literacy and numeracy completely admirable objective, but at the exclusion of the support of any higher education institutions in their countries, the world bank was part of this consensus as well and is now reversing. Imagine a millennium development goal that accessed to tertiary education, I think that would be a great way in which we could conclude that debate this evening, thank you very much indeed.
PW: Thank you David, I’m going to give Richard and Stefan, because you bracketed them, just the opportunity to comment to see if they have anything in response to what you said first.
RS: I have many comments. I guess the first thing I would say David is that your problem is not you, that is it’s not the model, your model is and you personally are something quite different to the bureaucracy that you oversee operates. Am I putting this delicately? I hope I am. Now in that regard I’d like to…and I think that’s a serious problem for you, because most academics would listen to what you’ve just said, say if only. So that’s a bureaucratic problem and I think it’s something that you neither can or will be able to address or not, but its practise rather than policy that’s the issue in the shopkeeper model.
In that regard I’d like to say something about something that we shouldn’t be talking about Tufts and its American equivalent which is called Smith’s College. Which I think is a remarkable institution, it mostly trains people at night, most of the people that are trained are not born in Britain, it has intellectual standards which at least in my area are much better than the LSEs and I asked its Principal, my friend Ben Pimler a long time ago, how did this happen? And he said well nobody was noticing. So that’s what I mean that your problem is not you, it’s actually that they were so unimportant that they were below the radar screen. So anyhow that’s a set of issues I don’t think we can really discuss, but it’s my comment to you both.
I want to say something on online teaching and MOOC’s because I’ve done a lot of this MIT was early on committed to this. Like many technological aspects of mass education it’s not what it cracked up to be and I’ll give you a very simple example of this. I did one of the first online courses at MIT about the development of the urban form, a historical course, a theoretical course, lots of pictures, looked beautiful when I looked at the screen it was absolutely fantastic, and if I may say I did a pretty good job in the these opening lectures. You know what the problem was? My email address was online and after the first lecture I get seven thousand emails. Now that’s great but you see the structural problem already I also had four teaching assistants who’s emails weren’t online, but even if I had forty, imagine dividing up seven thousand emails each week among forty people, and what happens with moods on online teaching, I think it’s the experience the open university has had, is that really because unless you’re just teaching facts, where there’s no interpretation of thinking, just memorising facts which you can do online to millions of people. Unless you’re doing that you have to follow the principal of the Open University, which is the course is open to as many people as can be accommodated in some face to face responsive situation. And for the kind of situation you’re talking about, how can a quarter of a million new students its back to square one, which is that you have to have let’s say twenty five hundred teaching assistants and those twenty five hundred teaching assistants would have to be able to communicate with me. You see where the problem is about this? So it looks like a cheap solution and believe me they look beautiful these course they are fantastic and in some way they are very instructive except they’re not teaching, that’s the problem with them, so I think that’s the issue we face. This is not a technological fix for the kind of problems we’re talking about. This would be my two response, one in which I know you can’t answer and the other which is a real issue, and as I said I was very enthusiastic about this, I love high tech I use it all the time until I made this error of publishing my email address.
SC: I think we all know now who the tune goes in these discussions, this is not the first time David Willets and I have talked about these things in public and it has a certain familiar style to it I have to say.
PW: We’ll move on quickly then.
SC: Well it doesn’t turn out to be as quick as you might like actually. I mean it is I’m sure I ought to regard it by now as extremely flattering to be cast as a more or less unworldly Cardinal Newman who is rather out of touch with the world, but I do want to say one thing first, I’ll get onto the more substantial issue shortly, but the one thing first is self defence. I have to say this each time we have this discussion, which is that I didn’t mean and I don’t mean and I don’t think I am at all dismissive about the various more limited and practical objectives which different types of higher education institutions carry out. Those are absolutely essential and as I think I said, and I try to say very explicitly, are depending on your cultural and social situation they may be your priority. My question was about if you want to go beyond that and are interested in the question of what it is to develop really high quality university work, what sorts of things should we be thinking about? That doesn’t demean the other things it just means that there are things to be thought about.
Now on the question of the types of progression or institution. The one additional thing I would say because actually on a lot of these matters most of us up here don’t hugely disagree. Let me just give one other kind of example, take us back to a different sort of American example, the California model, much cited, recently of course in some trouble because of voter recalcitrant’s about tax and so on, even though that may have change in the last two years. The key point I think here I would bring out of this is that it was a deliberate attempt to construct a system, not just a few good universities, but to have local community colleges which did something which the British system on the whole has been rather bad at, which is the second and third chance education, to provide nobility between types of institution, these could be gateways and ladders to going somewhere else. To have then a whole tier of state universities which often combine much more ambitious intellectual programmes, with a great deal of local and practical relevance, and then to have the University of California at the top as it were in those terms and within that system they certainly managed to reduce many good institutions of each of those three kinds and of course two of the most famous world universities perhaps in the case of UC Berkley and UCLA. Now that seems to be something that we should think about because we should think about a system of higher education and it seems to me that the merit of that example, which was mainly initiated by the chancellor of the university system there Clark Kerr, was an attempt at some overall planning of this and the parts of the world that David mentioned as being at the moment very much engaged by what they should do in the future seemed to me might well learn more from a public conception of the system like that, than from a variety of, as it were, market led private initiatives. The only other thing that I would say, and again I’m going to remain, I forget where I’m put, on a pedestal or in the clouds or somewhere very elevated anyway, but very easy to push over. Is just to say that one of the things that recent writings about universities around the world remarks, it’s not confined to any one national system, is a sense of malaise in universities that for all this expansion, and people here could give you impressive figures for increased expenditure on higher education, for all this expansion the feeling that something is not going right, the feeling that there is something here that is making universities, both university teaching as a career, but possibly university education as an option for students, future students. Something making it less attractive rather than more attractive. I think unless we can try and improve that very widespread feeling of malaise our confident assertions that we’ve got the right systems and what we need to do in terms, of it were generalise them, are not going to produce really the results we hope they would. So on that score I think we should be more cautious, lots of other things we could say we’ve said them before so I’ll stop there.
PBM: Just one sort of... I enjoy everything you said and agree with the challenges you are planning, particularly your scale, but I think there’s a real danger. The danger is the following that developing countries, I think the place where we went wrong was in misunderstanding what is it that gives the American or the British systems resilience? To my mind the core aspect of that resilience is the diversity of institutional forms. The trouble is once you get into the games of scale and number, the immediate impulse of government is to actually eradicate all that.
What killed India higher education effectively in the Indian university system, and it’s actually like Britain in the fifties and sixties, there were several great public universities doing great great work at low cost which effectively was sidelined, was when they actually got into this idea. So in a sense that MIT model needs to be extended to institutional forms as well, as it were, that you will have to play around with different kinds of institution. When other kinds of education ministers come here unfortunately what they don’t get is that message. What they get is the message is there is a model out here that is going to scale up to two hundred fifty thousand students without teachers and so forth. That’s just a small plea.
PW: Yes David, briefly.
DW: Let me just respond to that, I very much agree with the final point and the number of times when you visit an Education Minister around the world and what they want is, now how can we, I’d like to link our universities up to Oxford and Cambridge please, and I’d like to send more of our students to Oxford and Cambridge please.
I do try to explain that we have a hundred universities with diverse missions and that actually the University of Bournemouth is an excellent institution. And if you want I think the only university that is in the top ten for diversity of entrant, that takes people from a wide range of age, social and ethnic backgrounds, and in the top ten for employment outcomes afterwards, the only British university that’s in both of those leagues within Britain is the University of Huddersfield. They won’t, so there is a sort of incredibly powerful prestige model where you’re pushing against sort of a very strong value system and so I think it’s a fascinating point.
Let me just touch very briefly on the three other comments, first of all on California and Clark Kerr. Clark Kerr was in a way America’s Robins for a state, not the entire federal system, but rightly at the same time he was a man of state. But remember how the Californian state system works. It is run by a board of regents, and the board of regents enforce the specific roles on the component institutions within the Californian system. And in other words they are not the, none of the universities within the Californian state system have the autonomy the English universities enjoy. You are if you are part of that system and your job is the vocational side or you’re the feeder institutions or you’re the people who do doctorates, those roles are set for you by a supervisory body that is more powerful than the individual universities.
RS: Except for two, which were the two most flourishing institutions which were Berkley and UCLA, and this top down management broke down with them, they wouldn’t have it.
DW: All I would say is I’ve had this conversation with the President of The University of Berkley in the last nine months and he spent half the meeting complaining about what the regents were trying to do. And his argument was as we get more of our funding from fees and less and less from the state, the state has to grow up and recognise that its ability to give me instructions in the old way in the Clark Kerr model is breaking down.
So I stand, I repeat my assertion, they are not autonomous institutions and what we have done in England because of our history is the mantle of Oxford and Cambridge autonomy. Those fellows of Magdalen College in 1686 or whenever it was, rejecting imposition of a President chosen by James II, that tradition now belongs to every university in England. They each enjoy greater autonomy than in the Californian system. And second point about the Californian system, the other way it works because its state financed and ultimately state run is they can say something like, we’d like the top ten percent of kids from each one of our Californian schools to go to university, and that in some way is an admirable step to social mobility. I said well you couldn’t get away with that in Britain you’d be denounced as Socialist and social engineering, and I remember a Republican in California saying to me, but there are smart kids in central Los Angeles and of course they don’t get very good grades because they haven’t been very well taught, but if you have the top ten percent from each school then the smart kids from every school go to university. And the fact they can run that also tells you something very important, which is that academics do not determine admissions. That the heads of department and the academic faculties are not determining who goes to those universities. If you have a policy like saying that the top ten percent of school kids from each school goes to our universities you are then running an admissions system with far less autonomy than our universities expect. So my view is that Stefan wouldn’t allow me to get away with Richard’s model. Actually this wouldn’t stand up the Californian system.
Now the final point, emails, the final point, Richard and his seven thousand emails. Now I’m in danger of sounding like a Californian technophile, but if you have sat as I did in the lecture theatre at the LSE to hear Sal Khan of the Khan Academy describing what the Khan Academy has done in the past two years you would realise that this is soluble. He has that, he started putting on Facebook his little videos for his extended family and he immediately found he encountered this problem, and what they’ve done, what you do Edex, what you do at the Khan Academy, what Future Learn is going to have to do, is that you create a learning community in which the students compare notes with each other and share how they solve these answers, you have some moderation, but what you’ve managed to deliver at the Khan Academy I think he said they average fifty million students signed up, not necessarily of course all going to complete, a tiny fraction will complete in convention of course. He got fifty million students with a staff of thirty five, so that’s quite a good ratio if you want to spread access to higher education. So if they, and you do it by pooling the fact that even the students, your learners have also got something that they can share with your other learners. So I personally think that’s why I am more, I think this is a more significant change in education than Richard as I actually do think that the arrival of social media and the internet in H.E. is a big change.
PW: I have failed miserably in my role as Chair, I hope you don’t mind since I for one have enjoyed greatly what the panel have said. It wasn’t my intention, but it was great, so that’s fine the MIT model thank you. We’ve got half the amount of time I said we would for questions, there are roving microphones, we’ll take blocks of questions. Can I ask people to make sure that their questions are short, just ask one question, don’t make a statement, that will give the panel an opportunity again if we can answer those briefly to give as many people as possible an opportunity to something. So starting right at the back first, then we’ll just move on down.
Audience 1: My name is Natalie...I teach at Goldsmiths and at NYU. I’d like to bring up the issue of technical education which I think is being grossly underserved by the current models of MOOC’s and demonstrated a promising model by the Khan Academy, and this is a model of essential mobility we’re in fact becoming a sociologist tool. Literary theorist is not the aspiration or the channel for mobility that most students are attracted to university through. What it is is an engineering degree or computer science degree, medical degree, some kind of professional degree that is actually not heading towards the kind of research methodology, and this is where the profession, the transformation of the professional and technical education is perhaps less challenged because the model of the MOOC has promulgated the worst form of stem education, right, in every single problem set driven analysis standardised test has been celebrated as, and we know from years of looking carefully at the attrition rate of women and minorities in the science and technology and engineering and math fields that that doesn’t work right? I’m getting to my question.
PW: Yeah, quickly please.
Audience 1: The question is how do we seize the opportunity of MOOCs to change professional education and technical education so that it is not, so that it seizes the material experimentation, changes what is professional research, changes the capacity of who gets to do what is distributed on the ground experimentation. Not in the lab, but in action research and how we reimagine and redesign our urban systems through that?
PW: Right we’re going to take five questions, please can the rest of you keep the questions, forget about the preamble, just the question. Right over there. One sentence. Or two at most, but short.
Audience 2: My name is Kunah Beck, I shan’t give my institutional affiliation lest is cause some embarrassment. I’d like to come back to one the first that the German education or higher education system its, during its hay day was undoubtedly one of the most successful it was very unbureaucratic, interestingly it was largely publicly funded, and yet not to any large measure or due measure government controlled. In fact it bestowed very considerable autonomy on its academics.
So my question is what makes it impossible now for a publicly funded higher education system to work in this way and does that not highlight some pervasive problems with our society at large and perhaps one final sentence if I may? Generally I think conservatives have a very good grasp of what makes a good university maybe they’re forced to act too much like new labour now. Thank you very much.
PW: Thank you. Are you going to be brief? If you’re going to be brief, otherwise I’m not letting you have a microphone. One sentence, try just one sentence, come on.
Audience 3: I’ll try for one sentence. My name is Rod MacDonald. I’m a civil engineer, so I’m steep in science and technology and all the rest of it, and I’ve spend a lot of time travelling around the world in the last few years. What concerns me when I see this country, and I’ll talk about this country, is that we are absolutely steep in colonialism, we still believe we are better than everyone else in the world, we’ve been hearing about our education system and how everyone should be copying what we’re doing and all the rest of it. What are our universities going to do about changing that attitude?
And the second thing is the most important thing I see missing is open mindedness, so technology I’m completely steep in, but open mindedness, being able to see outside the box and being able to do things differently, and what are our universities going to do about that because it’s not around at the moment?
PW: Thank you Rod. Right who would like to try one or more of those? Jo, pick one of those, have a go.
JB: I think I’d like to pick up on the last one because it echoes very much with my experience of both being on the other end, on the receiving end of visits by one vice chancellor or a deputy vice chancellor international after another, all of whom would come to the University of Cape Town and say what can we offer you? And very few offer what can, how can we benefit from some sort of mutuality? Just take the MOOCs example I was there before MOOCs, but I was there at the time of open source and open access and we had a partnership with the University of Michigan where we developed an online course together in infectious diseases. Now Michigan got a much better product on infectious disease by working with the medical school at the University of Cape Town than they could have done alone. So there are examples of where mutuality can be of benefit. Putting out all those issues as I did earlier on competition I have the view that we in the UK have five to ten years of being able to hold our position as a preeminent supplier and provider of higher education and research. I think we are we have to be very cautious of ignoring what’s going on elsewhere. In China, where the rest of the countries which have higher education and research collaborations between 2000 and 2010 that’s double, that’s five times greater in China. So I think the competition is great I think a lot of what of Richard and Stefan have been talking about is exactly what makes our education system precious and which will enable us to maintain a strong position in the world. But that if we ignore the differentiated systems that are growing up, particularly in emerging power countries, it will be at our own peril.
PW: David what makes it impossible for us to have a publicly funded H.E. system?
DW: I thought it possible yeah, we have a significant amount of public funding, in the provision of the loans and writing up the loans for people whose incomes don’t go above £21,000. Maintenance grant which is more generous than in Germany, one of reasons why they have resident universities and why we have people who move around the country to go to university. We are covering the cost of higher cost subjects through the band A and B disciplines. Yes we do have public funding, we have a public private mix, just as the benefits of universities are also both public and private.
PW: Do you want to have a go at commenting on the first question?
RS: Well this is a subject that really interests me, ‘technicoligication’ I wrote badly about it my book The Craftsman. The old model is the workshop, and the alternative model that is learning surgery or a surgical procedure by watching the screen is equally impossible. And what we need in ‘technicoligication’ its really no different in ‘technicologication’ than I think learning any kind of craft, poetic craft whatever, is how we can handle some of the conditions of hands on learning, without have a world of small workshops anymore. That’s why and this is something that I think is really important for you, which is why getting paid apprenticeships for people in businesses is absolutely crucial. The Germans do do it and we’re starting to do it, and this to me is the only way that we can do this, we have to get, what’s called in the States vocational education back into the vocations. I think the most important thing this government or any government at this moment could do. There’s a real skills gap in this country at the level, and I’ll keep you here all night if you’ll let me, but there’s a real skills that borderland between skilled working class or middle class manual labour. It’s not because the Poles work for less money that they’re getting those jobs, we have this fantastic problem. Since we don’t have polytechnics we have to solve it in the work place rather than the schools.
PW: Next set of questions. Craig at the back...wait to get miked Craig...yeah that’s why I thought I would ask him!
Audience 4: I begin by saying that I thought Pratap’s comment was really important at the beginning. That there is no single model of the university and we’re destined to a fairly incoherent conversation as long we keep talking about the university and ignoring all the many kinds of differentiation and the muddles we get into when we try to bundle all these different missions indistinctly into single institutions. In that regard I think that part of it is, when does higher education need to be become coupled with research and when not? What can be scaled up effectively? What not? These sorts of things, and back then to the Senate Collini line, which sounds like some sort of part of learning about World War 1.
I want to ask Richard then...I want to say that Richard is wrong about one thing in his speech that I thought was overwhelmingly very interesting and very good and see if it matters that I think he is wrong. And that’s the Harvard/Tufts comparison where I both disagree about the sociology departments, which is interesting but that’s not the important part.
It’s that Tufts is richer than any UK university other than Oxford and Cambridge. That it costs more than any other UK university to go there as a student. That that money is used to support whatever blue sky is research and open ended enquiry is being conducted in Tufts exemption as support. So does that matter to this model? Does who pays matter and the extent to which Tufts is radically unpublic, where or not we agree about how good the work being done there is.
PW: Thank you. If you pass the microphone over then that will save a bit of time...
Audience 5: Julius Weinberg, Vice Chancellor at Kingston, one of those terrible universities that produces people who go out and create jobs.
This is a university which houses both the Centre for Modern European Philosophy and the largest workshops of any universities in London for designers, fashion people, those that are creating the economy of modern London.
I just wonder why much of the panel seems to be in a rather bizarre elitist discussion and I must say it does remind me of the ghost of J H Newman.
PW: Thank you. Let’s have one from down here.
Audience 6: Excuse me...can I just do a very quick one...a one sentence one...
PW: If it is genuinely a sentence...
Audience 6: Yep, unusually I am going to break the rule because I am a journalist and I am going to do it in one sentence. Anne McElvoy from The Economist.
David Willetts if you had absolute freedom, no fear of a reprisal or being called a socialist would you go the top 3% route in terms of allocating places in universities per school and alienate possibly the entire middle class parentage of Great Britain?
PW: Right, that was a nice brief question...in pink....thank you.
Audience 7: My question is how can we make changes in our institution to move towards an MIT model in the face of undemocratic university management, government policy and broader global neoliberal trends? I am a student at SOAS and the SOAS Student Unions Campaigns Officer and I would love to explain...
PW: Thank you, I am glad they are on the panel! I am just the Chair!
Audience 7: I would love to explain the negative effects of privatisation and David Willett's policies in detail at SOAS to you. Obviously there is not enough time but yeah how can we reverse those changes?
PW: Right, would either of you like to reply to your bosses questions first? Richard or not? The question was, does who pays matter? That is my understanding. Tufts actually is a very rich university.
RS: It is yeah. I don’t think so but that’s because I don’t know much about money. I am sure it makes a huge amount. I am sure it makes a huge amount of difference to you because you have to deal with these problems. I mean my end of this is just to say that I think the important is to think well, not to think like a shopkeeper and the bureaucracy is stacked towards that kind of shopkeeper accountancy. Sure it probably helps to have money but then I give you the example of so many, and you know this as well as I do, of so many really good universities and colleges in the US in which people are just scraping by and doing really good work.
I am probably very idealistic about this but I just think if you start with the notion of what you want to achieve that then the means begin to fall into place differently than they are falling into place now...
PW: David, if you had absolute freedom? Top 3%?
DW: Well first of all the...it’s on the 3%...on Anne’s 3%. No we are in a completely different system. I have no desire to control admissions to universities. I have the whole UCAS universities choosing who they admit model is a key part of the English system. We are an outlier but that’s our history and I support it and celebrate it.
The American system depends on far less autonomy then we have in our system and this leads to the bureaucracy question, the question from SOAS. Because I do sometimes think in these debates that I have strayed as the Minister into a series of essentially internal cultural issues in universities, of which there are about three.
One is, certainly in Oxford and Cambridge, a lot of it is colleges verses university. Although I may say that it is also a bit of an issue in London. So you have the endless sense that colleges have to fight back against the university which leads into the second one which is arts humanities verses the physical sciences where there is a sense of vulnerability on the side of humanities which is then transmitted as seeing government is attacking us when we don’t sit around trying to plot the demise of the humanities. We rather like them.
And then there is thirdly, where everything is now so bureaucratic and there is virtually no bureaucracy at my disposal whatsoever and I would not wish to have one. The bureaucratic debate, and I hear it from my friends in the universities, is almost entirely about the internal organisation of universities. What has happened is institutions which used to be people sitting in libraries and operating from relatively small labs with modest budgets have suddenly become organisations with total budgets of a quarter of a billion pounds, half a billion pounds, three quarters of a billion pounds. And suddenly sets of organisational challenges and responsibilities follow from that and the process of adaptation to this growth in the size and scale of the university and its budget also creates cultural tensions in universities.
None of those issues are essentially government matters though I realise party of our responsibility is to be the people upon whom these anxieties are transmitted.
PW: Stefan? I think we are going to give you the last word Stefan because it’s getting on.
SC: Well it will be very short words and three short points.
One is just that it seems to me a pity if any talk about quality, if any attempt to think about the conditions of quality has to be in some ways stigmatised as elitist. I think quite a few of us have made an effort to try and say this is a serious issue which isn’t just a matter of some kind of traditional hierarchies or some other kind of intellectual snobbery and it can concern any type of institution and I think that is true.
Who pays, does it matter. Just to add one small point to that, not the practical point but...It sometimes I think makes a difference to the population’s sense of, as it were, ownership of the institutions and of how far they cater to that population rather than how far they cater to a small by and large well healed select slice of that population. I think that’s not a simple question as we all know here but I think that affects the public perception of universities in that way.
And the third one just about governments. I think there is another aspect here which is where academics have been culpable which is by withdrawing from many of the internal administrative functions of universities it has lead to the necessity of a professional cadre of administrators who sometimes have other conceptions and maybe other interests and although academics have partly done this in response to pressures of things like research assessment and so on its been a career model move I think and it seems to me to have been a very bad one. I think academics just as we should take at least as seriously responsibilities of teaching as research even though the pressures are the other way, we also should take seriously, no doubt this is part of the view from my pedestal, but we should also take seriously the obligation to run our institutions and to take our own turn in doing this. And if so I think some of the things I suspect your pointing to and which I would certainly recognise would not now be in place in a lot of British Universities.
PW: Thank you. That’s very good timing. That’s 9 o’clock. I was supposed to be timed five minutes to do a summing up. The idea that I could sum up what the panellist have said and what the audience had seems to me utterly absurd but I for one at least will take away a few points. One of which is about the importance of diversity and diversity across the board.
Another one a number of speakers have mentioned is autonomy and the importance of university autonomy in all sorts of different ways. I was particularly taken by Pratap’s point about the logic of democracy and bureaucracy and what that does to universities in a wider sense and the importance that we think in terms of university systems and not in terms of single universities.
Can I just conclude the evening by thanking all of those who made this possible. First of all the panel members and you the audience. Without them and without you we wouldn’t have had an evening. We should also thank Michael Aminian and Zamyn. Without his vision and drive none of these events would have happened and this evening and its very good. And also the five sponsors Chris mentioned at the outset. They are all up there on the board; Accenture, Africa Progress Panel, Barclays, SOAS of course and Tate Modern. We are very grateful to everyone for making this possible.
And finally there are always in these events large numbers of people who work behind the scenes and who don’t get thanked but they know who they are so my thanks to all of those who worked behind the scenes.
We are pleased to be part of this and I am sure some members of the panel will still be around if you want to ask them questions afterwards. There may be others who are rushing off but anyway!
Thank you very much indeed.