David Cameron (PM) and the Queen, with the Emir of Qatar © The Independent, 2011

I have to be careful when writing about my home country. Having decided to emigrate to Canada just over 20 years ago, a psychological phenomenon known as ‘cognitive dissonance’ kicks in. This is the way we justify our decisions. One example is to dismiss as worthless everything to do with what we rejected in making the decision, and over-praising everything about what we chose. But nevertheless, and even if I betray false consciousness, I despair about what is happening in Britain. Two examples below illustrate this:

Baker, S. (2011) Sharing information on fees ‘might be illegal’, says UUK Times Higher Education, 21 April

Institutions are warned over price-setting as MPs are asked to investigate. Universities in England setting their undergraduate tuition fees for 2012-13 could be breaking competition law simply by sharing information on costs or other “strategically significant matters”, such as support for poorer students.

The warning comes in a briefing by Universities UK on the latest legal advice about the issue, as scrutiny intensifies over the decision by a large number of English institutions to aim for the maximum level of £9,000.

Anything that allows another university to “infer or deduce a pricing or commercial strategy” could be deemed commercially sensitive, according to the briefing, including “financial projections, proposed programme expansion or reduction, and benchmarking”.

Fears over the potential for an Office of Fair Trading investigation into price-setting by universities have been heightened after a union official called on MPs to look into whether institutions were guilty of collusion.

Baker, S. (2011) Deadwood, UK: up to half of courses need cross-subsidy to survive, analysis discovers Times Higher Education, 11 May

At least a third and perhaps up to half of all university courses in the UK are loss-making, and many teaching-led universities have departments with no “meaningful existence” that are being kept afloat by profits from other areas.

These are among the findings of an in-depth analysis of university business models by The Parthenon Group, an international consultancy firm, which says that a large number of institutions have “multiple departments” that are financially unsustainable.

The company’s analysis, which uses data on university costs from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, shows that for a group of about 50 general teaching institutions, a large chunk of their activity is focused on offering five subject areas – business, IT, design, teacher training and nursing. The rest of their resources are spent on several other departments, which are “almost certainly” losing money, Parthenon says.

Mr Robb told THE that the situation had arisen because “budget-based accounting” prevails over commercial thinking; as a result, surpluses from successful courses are invested in “whatever is interesting to academics”.

Well, there we have it. In the UK, higher education is no longer a public good; it is a strictly commercial operation, and universities should operate solely as commercial businesses.

I’m not normally a neo-Marxist, but if you want evidence of the dominance of the neo-liberal agenda, here it is. For those Brits still wanting to emigrate, I’m afraid the lifeboats have already been sold (following a cost-benefit analysis).

[Thanks to Jim Ellis for directing me to this depressing news.]

See also: Has the Anglo-American Academy peaked?



  1. […] At the same time, Apollo Group (the owners of the University of Phoenix) announced that it has written down the value of BPP, its UK-owned company, which suggests that it is less optimistic about making ‘easy money’ out of the attempt by the UK government to increase competition between UK universities. Nevertheless Apollo is still committed to the long-term future of BPP. Until the UK announces how it intends to ‘regulate’ competition between UK universities, BPP’s future will remain uncertain, but it looks like Apollo is taking a bet on the possibility that things will ‘open up’ for them in Britain. (See also: The calamitous state of higher education in the UK). […]


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