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IOE Blog


Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


HE White Paper: market principles simplistically applied simply won’t work

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 9 June 2016

Paul Temple
Ronald Barnett, Peter Scott and I have just finished editing a volume of essays in honour of our colleague Professor Emeritus Gareth Williams, one of the foremost contemporary economists of higher education. Much of Gareth’s work has involved the study of markets and market-type mechanisms in higher education.
While he has no objections in principle to market-based methods in higher education as ways of improving efficiency and equity, in a recent essay he sets out their limitations:

  • Markets will not provide long-term funding for programmes with uncertain returns;
  • the inevitable knowledge asymmetry between higher education providers and users reduces their effectiveness (in other words, the providers know far more about the system than the students do);
  • higher education has benefits that go beyond those gained by the people who take part in it;
  • stratification (the creation of elites), rather than the differentiation that might be expected in a normal market, is a typical feature; along with other difficulties.


HE White Paper: still more inequality

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 17 May 2016

Peter Scott
The White Paper has been received with the usual round of ‘welcomes’ from the higher education ‘establishment’ – rather limp ‘up to a point, Lord Copper’ responses that deceive no one and are probably motivated more by fear of the consequences of open opposition than any sense of conviction. Or perhaps the neo-liberal discourse of ‘universities are knowledge businesses’ and ‘students are customers’ is now so clamorous that it has become almost impossible to think that any other policies are possible.
Certainly it has become difficult to assert some simple truths – that universities are not simply knowledge machines, however great the ‘impact’ of their research; that they are about more than boosting global competitiveness (or lifetime earnings) but are key institutions in the kind of ‘open society’ we urge on lesser breeds in Eastern Europe or the Middle East (but not Saudi Arabia – and certainly not China); and that students are not customers but learners. To say such stuff is to risk being labelled a dinosaur, a leftie or a spokesperson for the ‘producers’ cartel’ / encrusted establishment – or probably all three.
So the only available – short-term – strategy is to attack the detail, and expose the White Paper (more…)