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The long and stupid decline of the British university – Audio Long Reads

Politicians, managers and accountants are destroying everything good about our cultural institutions.

Once the envy of the world, British universities are being hollowed out by a managerial class, argues Adrian Pabst, a New Statesman contributing writer and professor of politics at the University of Kent. Instead of intellectual excellence and civic responsibility, the emphasis is increasingly on “churning out graduates who will serve the interests of City firms and the non-governmental organisation industry”.

Where did the rot set in, and can it be cured? Pabst traces the university’s decline from the advent of the student loan and a 1990s proliferation of “Mickey Mouse” degrees, via New Labour and the Cameron-Clegg coalition’s embrace of marketisation and bureaucracy. As degrees have become more expensive, the work that goes into them has become more mediocre – with tutors and students assessed against arbitrary metrics. The universities’ “corporate capture… is a profound cultural loss,” he writes.

In this excoriating essay, originally published as the New Statesman’s 10 March 2023 cover story, Pabst diagnoses the causes, examines the costs ­– and proposes solutions to the current crisis. You can read the text version here.

Written by Adrian Pabst and read by Emma Haslett.

If you enjoyed this episode, you might also like The great housing con: why the coming crash will rewrite the UK economy.

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