Howard Hotson

Howard Hotson is a fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford and president of the International Society for Intellectual History.

Short Cuts: For-Profit Universities

Howard Hotson, 2 June 2011

In July last year, two months after assuming his duties as minister for universities and science, David Willetts granted university status to BPP University College of Professional Studies, making it only the second private institution in England, after the University of Buckingham, to be given the power to award degrees.1 BPP is nothing like the private but non-profit American universities...

Don’t Look to the Ivy League

Howard Hotson, 19 May 2011

At the heart of the Browne Report and the government’s higher education policy is a simple notion allegedly grounded in economics: that the introduction of market forces into the higher education sector will simultaneously drive up standards and drive down prices. The confidence displayed by ministers in predicting these effects would be more reassuring if it were not at odds with the evidence that precisely the opposite is happening. The list of universities committed to charging something near the £9000 upper limit of fees is steadily lengthening, contrary to what Vince Cable has repeatedly told them is in their rational economic interest. And with regard to standards, the American company that owns BPP University College – which David Willetts granted university status only last year – recently lost its appeal in the US Supreme Court after being found guilty of defrauding its shareholders and is under investigation by the US Higher Learning Commission for deceiving students about the career value of its degrees. Since one of the justifications for funding university teaching primarily through tuition fees was to open up the English university sector to the beneficial influence of private providers, this news throws further doubt on the wisdom of government policy.

David Willetts’s argument is essentially as follows (Letters, 14 July). Relative to its size, the UK currently enjoys one of the world’s finest university systems. But UK universities score highly in international rankings because those rankings prioritise research; and UK universities are good at research because for the past 25 years government has stimulated competition for research funding...

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