AMERICANS WHO WONDER what the heck is happening to their public colleges can find answers in the British case. While American educational and political leaders deny the negative outcomes of the actions they barely admit to be taking, the United Kingdom’s Tory government has offered explicit rationales for the most fundamental restructuring of a university system in modern history. The stakes are very high. Both countries have been downgrading their mass higher education systems by shrinking enrollments, reducing funding for educational quality, increasing inequality between premier and lower-tier universities, or all three at once.
Oddly, policymakers are doing this in the full knowledge that mass access to high-quality public universities remains the cornerstone of high-income economies and complex societies. The public has a right to know what politicians and business leaders are really doing to their higher education systems, why they are doing it, and how to respond.