Our Universities are jewels in the British crown. As crucibles of the free enquiry and free speech which underpin our demoralised body politic, social mobility, the innovation and the world class economic growth we so desperately need, it is vital that they are funded properly.
But over recent years our Universities have been led down a blind alley into ever increasing dependence on Government, with all the inevitable consequences that follow as night follows day: politically correct interference, underfunding, and a dumbing down of standards. In short, allowing Government to do to our University sector what it did to British Steel, British Leyland and British secondary education. We are in danger of creating a University system which is increasingly dependent on churning ever greater numbers of students through ever more mediocre degrees.
We need a reform of University funding that facilitates our top Universities to raise the money they need to invest in research and teaching excellence, unlocks a revolution in philanthropy and endowments so that no academically deserving applicant from a disadvantaged background has to borrow anything, and encourages for the rest a diversity of provision with more part time, vocational, shorter and more applied courses.
Many of our Universities are sitting on huge economic assets in research and Intellectual Property, and philanthropic endowments from alumni. Before coming to Parliament I spent a 15 year career working with our top research Universities helping to fund new technology ventures. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the value our top Universities are sitting on.
We need a package of reform which is bold, ambitious and optimistic about our Universities, is rooted in a profound belief in their independence, and a commitment to combining excellence, innovative new funding and progressive social mobility.
The Coalition should be congratulated for having the political guts to do the right thing in supporting the Coalition’s plans. Tomorrow’s graduates will thank them.