This week many academics must have been delighted to get some message such as this, decisively showing how government really does care about education:

 

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has recently launched a review of postgraduate provision in the UK, to be led by Professor Adrian Smith, Director General of Science and Research at BIS.  (See www.bis.gov.uk/postgraduate-review )

The review's principal areas of investigation will be:


*

        to assess the competitiveness of UK institutions in the global market for postgraduate education


*          to assess the benefits of postgraduate study for all relevant stakeholders


*          to assess the evidence about the needs of business and other employers for postgraduates


*          and to examine levels of participation, in terms of who undertakes postgraduate study, and whether there are barriers affecting the diversity of participation and any associated reduction in the availability of high-quality entrants.

 


The University intends to submit comments and I have been asked to seek your… 

 

My initial response was probably not robust enough. It is written as if from a philosophy faculty, but I hope and trust it might serve as a template for others.

 

Dear BIS,

 

(1) Our postgraduate philosophy education is primarily vital in ensuring the quality of the incoming stream of future teachers of philosophy to the next generation in universities, colleges, and schools. These provide the continuing educational resource for very acute and educated people to flow into very diverse channels of administration, business, and other branches of employment, including what used to exist as, be known as, and be called, public service, before that fell into the hands of people unable to conceive of it as anything else than a cornucopia of opportunities for corruption. If these last are what you call the "stakeholders" then we probably cannot show to their satisfaction that we are of use to them, any more than music, art, literature or history could. 

 

(2) Such teachers educate philosophy graduates who can indeed flourish in business: there are many, many, examples. But we don't believe you should be paying slavish attention to what business people, and especially those who happily believe themselves fit to judge things about which they know nothing, say are their "needs", since we do not have any confidence that without more philosophy than most of them possess, they have the least idea what those needs are. We merely note that conceptions of need that have recently given us such outstanding examples of British business in operation as Leyland, Rover, Guinness, BAE systems, or RBS, seem strange instruments with which to assess institutions that enable such legacies as those left by Bacon, Locke, Hume, Mill, Sidgwick, Russell, or Wittgenstein. We are, to adapt your own Minister’s words, intensely relaxed about having assisted the country to this filthy rich legacy.

 

(3)  We note that the chairman of your committee is a committed advocate of “evidence based” practice. While we applaud this we also note that the impact of ideas is not measurable, even by double-blind clinical tests decked out with the best Bayesian interpretations. Most cathedrals of Europe were built over a thousand years after the original source of the ideas that issued in them died, and the greatest single edifice owning his impact was built over fifteen hundred years after the same event. Even The Communist Manifesto had its main “impact” more than 65 years after it was written. Nobody has done a controlled experiment on what the impact of either Christianity or Communism was, but only an idiot therefore believes that the jury should stay out on whether they had any.

            If historical timescales are deemed inappropriate, we note that the one trillion pound bank bailout last year would have paid the AHRC budget for ten thousand years.

 

(3) As to the insulting questions about access, from the academic point of view the single barrier to participation is the hurdle of being sufficiently educated and sufficiently competent to have profited from understanding and controlling the central categories of thought, and to be likely to do so in graduate studies. From the social and financial point of view the barriers include deprivation at an early age, insufficiently stimulating and imaginative schooling, and entrenched inequalities giving few people the confidence ever to become both curious and articulate. These are all of them directly the responsibility of government, not the universities which have to work with the lucky few who either did not face the obstacles, or are exceptional enough to have overcome them. 

 

 

Yours sincerely,