Sir Howard Davies has one influential supporter; the market

One of conservative libertarianism’s greatest minds, Milton Friedman, would be aghast that Davies has resigned because of what is essentially an issue of Corporate Social Responsibility. If you consider that the reduction in funding towards the sector means that further private channels of income will be required, one could argue that Friedman would believe LSE were correct in their decision to accept the Libya donation. He would argue that Sir Davies did what was necessary for the survival of the university in the market system and this should not be affected by public opinion. On those terms, LSE should be celebrated for accepting the donation as they are putting survival and profitable efficiency above public affairs; as any efficiently run company should.
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Sir Howard Davies has resigned as head of London School of Economics over the Gadaffi controversy. I have a few instant thoughts which make me quite unhappy about this development.

I cannot help but wonder how this furore fits with the current climate in HE. I am firmly against the funding proposals that are currently eking their way through the policy-making process. That said, I’m also a realist. We are moving speedily towards the creation of a market which will mean universities will need to operate in a more businesses-like manner in order to survive.

One of conservative libertarianism’s greatest minds, Milton Friedman, would be aghast that Davies has resigned because of what is essentially an issue of Corporate Social Responsibility. If you consider that the reduction in funding towards the sector means that further private channels of income will be required, one could argue that Friedman would believe LSE were correct in their decision to accept the Libya donation. He would argue that Sir Davies did what was necessary for the survival of the university in the market system and this should not be affected by public opinion. On those terms, LSE should be celebrated for accepting the donation as they are putting survival and profitable efficiency above public affairs; as any efficiently run company should.

So you would expect that Conservative members of parliament would be coming out in support of LSE as their practice is an endorsement of the market this government is trying to facilitate. Funnily enough, they’re not. In fact Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, has tabled two Early Day Motions condemning LSE’s links and then links from other universities to Middle East dictatorships. What’s even more confusing is that these motions received full support from one of the party’s most influential bloggers.

This is of great concern to me. If this march towards market is going to continue, then it is not the place for MPs, the public or anyone else to dictate (pardon the pun) where universities accept donations from. This will stymie the survival of universities as it handcuffs them, preventing them from seeking private funding whilst cutting the funding for universities at the same time. It would be nothing short of a disaster and could decimate the sector.

So how can this be prevented? Well, if the government wishes to press on with marketisation and the removal of the teaching grant, then when universities are faced with similar situations they need the government’s support, or-at the very least, the government and their MPs to stay silent on the issue. Halfon voted with the government on all education related votes so one could say evidence shows he supports the market system and that evidence also shows that he is loyal to the whip, so outbursts like this, I’m sure, could be internally dealt with.

If, however, the government agrees with Mr Halfon that universities should be held accountable for their choice of donation sources, then I don’t see how current proposals can also be supported and neither can the march towards marketisation.

4 responses to “Sir Howard Davies has one influential supporter; the market

  1. But Universities will always have to operate for the public good Newell – regardless of the fee system and the bits of ‘market’ that exist on HE…

  2. Oh I completely agree. Universitiess are a social good & should be a social resource, which justifies the public expense.

    If anything, I feel the Friedman model could never truly work with HE and I feel a lot of people who support the marketisation of HE may not have understood that either a new theory/model has to be written (which is risky to do practically-id rather see the debate fleshed out a bit more) or they are just going to have to grin & bear it when this issues arise.

    Part of me feels, this is a parable about being careful for what you wish for to Lord Browne.

  3. A key question, I feel, was asked by Ferdinand von Prondzynski: “How judgmental should we all be that these links were created in the first place?” – http://goo.gl/Vcv6y

    Even if unis are held responsible, would it not be enough that they didn’t accept the donation (i.e. give it back)?

  4. I liked that blog. Esp the questions relating to what makes a university leader.

    Is an academic best suited to the role, being bogged down by administration and strategy, or is someone like Davies best suited?

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