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Higher education’s goal is to benefit society

This letter was first published in The Financial Times and

Keith Burnett is absolutely right that our university system is in a mess, but less so in suggesting that “no one knows what to do about it” (“British universities face a crisis of over-ambitious expansion”, August 1).The root of the problem is not increased participation, but the apparent acceptance that higher education is all about the money, both for students and providers. Young people are lured into university by the promise of higher lifetime earnings, while universities have been forced to maximise their income from student fees. Neither the promise nor the business model is working, as the growing numbers of underemployed graduates and struggling providers proves. We have lost the vision of higher education as a foundation for societal benefits. That vision persists in Holland, Germany and Scandinavia, where healthy systems are aligned and funded around national policy goals. Hopefully, the Augar review will look across the North Sea for the lessons we can learn. 

Mike Boxall is a higher education expert at PA Consulting

University Heads’ Views on the Outlook for UK Higher Education

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