What are universities for?
Poor English universities. No one knows what they’re for anymore. But it’s so obvious! So here’s my handy guide to help you figure it out.
Are they for developing business, innovation and skills?
Of course! The government department responsible for them is the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. (No, not the department of education, don’t be absurd). You’ll find them here, listed amongst BIS’s other policy areas:
Our policy areas
All our policies aim to drive balanced and sustainable growth.
- Better regulation
- Business law
- Business sectors
- Consumer issues
- Economic development
- Economics and statistics
- Employment matters
- Enterprise and business support
- Europe, trade and export control
- Further education and skills
- Higher education
- National and official statistics
- Public Sector Innovation
- Shareholder Executive
And don’t forget that one of its key roles in that capacity is Preventing Violent Extremism.
Are they for improving the public and the quality of life of the country?
Again, yes. Everyone knows that more education means a better educated population. But what you didn’t know was that education isn’t actually what universities are for (see point 8 below). No, universities are intended to benefit wider culture. How will this be measured, you ask. By impact:
- Definition of impact for the REF
- For the purposes of the REF, impact is defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia (as set out in paragraph 143).
- Impact includes, but is not limited to, an effect on, change or benefit to:
- the activity, attitude, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, policy, practice, process or understanding of an audience, beneficiary, community, constituency, organisation or individuals in any geographic location whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.
- Impact includes the reduction or prevention of harm, risk, cost or other negative effects.
- For the purposes of the impact element of the REF:
- Impacts on research or the advancement of academic knowledge within the higher education sector (whether in the UK or internationally) are excluded. (The submitted unit’s contribution to academic research and knowledge is assessed within the ‘outputs’ and ‘environment’ elements of REF.)
- Impacts on students, teaching or other activities within the submitting HEI are excluded.
- Other impacts within the higher education sector, including on teaching or students, are included where they extend significantly beyond the submitting HEI.
- Impacts will be assessed in terms of their ‘reach and significance’ regardless of the geographic location in which they occurred, whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally. The UK funding bodies expect that many impacts will contribute to the economy, society and culture within the UK, but equally value the international contribution of UK research.
- The REF panels will provide further guidance in relation to the kinds of impact that they would anticipate from research in their UOAs; this guidance will not be restrictive, and any impact that meets the general definition at Annex C will be eligible.
So, for example, if you had been George Orwell, you would have made a measurable impact on the society or culture by creating (and presumably licensing to your university [see below]) the term ‘Orwellian’ or writing the essay ‘Politics and the English Language.’
Are they for generating income?
Well, yes, that too. Obviously universities, like banks, hedge funds, and private equity firms, need to attract the best and the brightest….administrators. So they need to generate income for their vice-chancellors’ enormous salaries. But beyond this, universities can also generate income for the state. According to the Times Higher,
Referring to suggestions that Hefce might next year raise over-recruitment fines to £10,000 per student under the higher fees regime, he said such a move would cause difficulties for universities, which would find it hard to judge their conversion rates between offers and acceptances under the new system.
But don’t forget that for both the vice-chancellors and the government the real money comes from overseas students (soon to be paying over £15,000 a year for postgraduate courses). Of course, some people will complain. Again, the Times Higher
The remarks will make uncomfortable reading for UK universities, which rely on international students to prop up postgraduate studies in certain key disciplines. Institutions will also be aware of the income such students provide through tuition fees, and of the long-standing concerns that they can end up isolated from UK students. The paper’s authors, Lorraine Brown and Steven Richards, both senior lecturers in tourism, note that previous studies have highlighted the “unfriendly, unapproachable and indifferent” attitudes, and in some cases outright racism, faced by overseas students in the UK. However, little work has been done on home students’ attitudes, they add.
Hello!? Do you see ‘improving the overseas student experience’ on this list of what universities are for? No? Didn’t think so.
Are they for broadening the mind?
This is what academics have begun to stress recently. But honestly, I’m not sure when they’ll have the time.