Tutorial: Dr Pangloss instructs his young charge in this illustration by Quentin Blake for the Folio Society’s 2011 edition of Voltaire’s ‘Candide’
What Are Universities For?, by Stefan Collini, Penguin, RRP£9.99, 240 pages
In recent years publishers have taken increasingly to decorating their covers with endorsements. Had I been asked to contribute some such remark on this book, I would have proffered (borrowing from Evelyn Waugh), “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”
Professor Stefan Collini, who holds a chair in intellectual history and English literature at Cambridge University, appears to come from what we might describe as the unregenerate, conservative left. Old Tories may have a little sympathy for his approach, particularly his refusal (at the very least) to make an idol of the market and his passionate defence of autonomous institutions. He does not go as far as that other, alas now dead, Cambridge man of the left, Tony Judt, in denouncing the “system of enforced downward uniformity” that has clipped and confined meritocracy over the past 40 years. But you feel that he would have quite liked to go that far, if only he had dared challenge the phony egalitarianism that has played such havoc with our education system.