The once highly-regarded British public university is not quite dead but it is in terminal care. After half a century of global success on public funding that amounted to less than 1.5% of Britain’s GDP, in the space of two years we’ve seen the partial withdrawal of the state from the sector, and it is expected that this is a precursor to full withdrawal followed by extensive privatisation.
With the overnight tripling of tuition fees in 2010 (in the face of widespread protests) and with further rises in the offing, the student has been reframed as a consumer buying private goods in the form of a degree. Combine this with a mortgage and you have a large number of citizens who are unlikely to be debt-free at any point in their life.
Formerly known as a university, the service provider of higher education is now to sink or swim in response to the pressures of competition, as degree-awarding corporations rather than sites of inquiry and learning. Ironically, however, it turns out that the new fees regime which David Willetts, the Universities Minister, keeps bizarrely insisting is fairer than the previous one, is actually costing the exchequer more, through the rising costs of subsidising student loans.