08 April 1988 - 10 April 1988

Higher Education in an Advanced Society

Chair: Dr John E Brademas

For this important subject we were fortunate to have as chairman Dr John Brademas, a Director of American Ditchley, and a distinguished group of academics, academic administrators, civil servants, businessmen and the British Parliamentary Under Secretary for Education, Mr Robert Jackson.

First, it was suggested that the purpose of higher education was to stimulate the imagination. In discussion, it was argued that this should be elaborated to include the ability to learn, the ability to make judgements and the ability to undertake a leadership role. In group discussion, this was further developed in the context of impact in four areas, the individual, the nation, the world and the higher education sector itself. For the individual, one aim must be to produce, transmit and utilise knowledge coherently and in "teachable chunks", in preparation for careers (the importance of that was repeatedly emphasised both as a measure of success and as a factor in student choice), but also for a full life. For the nation, higher education should produce individuals whose skills, in whatever specialisation, would contribute to prosperity and wise choices in all national policies. For the world, the aim should be the creation of inter-cultural understanding and of skills to cope with international issues. Finally, for the institutions themselves, it was necessary to produce future teachers and to respond to changing circumstances whether of demand, demographic trends or funding.

Against that broad definition of aims, largely shared by all participants, it soon emerged that in practice the phrase higher education was used in England and Wales to describe a narrower and more selective system than in the US, or even in the Federal Republic, France or Scotland. (The entry requirements of the English universities, especially Oxbridge, were seen as excessively narrow and demanding.) In the US in particular the higher education sector comprised many more disciplines and levels of education than in England, and, in English terms, might best be described as tertiary education: access to some form of post-secondary education was virtually universal, but selection operated so as to channel students into different areas or levels of aspiration. The systems in Europe outside England and Wales tended to encourage wider access, but not to the same degree as in the US and in the case, for example, of France, with a worryingly high fall-out rate of 80%.

That wider access was desirable was not disputed. To achieve it, Europe would have to move closer to the US model; but in doing so should try to avoid the defects recognised in the US system, where tension between "equality and quality" was causing concern, e.g. in the failure to impart a "core of common knowledge". Participants noted Scottish thinking about "modular" courses whereby both school-leavers and mature students would be able, through a series of inter-locking courses, to build up to qualifications which in aggregate would take them into higher education in the English sense (a point was made that in all systems of selection it was important to see the process as steps rather than hurdles).

Participants also argued that there was a need to improve preparation in schools, reaching right back to the primary level, so that entrants to the tertiary sector would possess the core of common knowledge already referred to and the ability to acquire quickly, through crash remedial courses (though that title might be undesirable), such additional skills and learning as they might need.

Furthermore, the conference recognised that if entry was to be widened, both in the pattern of diversity typical of the US but also in the less diversified pattern typical of Europe, it would be necessary to consider also the possibilities of exit, so that even those who failed to complete the full course, would acquire some recognised qualification and their work, though uncompleted, could be regarded, not as "wastage", but as an educational bonus.

There was some discussion of graduate (US) or post-graduate (English) work, its aims, and practice. Here there were sharp differences in national practice. In Germany, where the system originated, a clear value is placed by the labour market on a doctorate. This is true also of the US, where a PhD is a pre-requisite, for example, of an academic appointment. In contrast, in the UK, except in some specialised scientific fields, little or no value is placed on a PhD. No clear answer was reached and the question of cost was raised - even in Germany incentives for shorter post-graduate work are being offered. It was suggested also that industries working at the frontiers of science, for example, looked not for PhD's in relevant areas, but for graduates whom they could train on. Thus, future PhD development in some areas might be entrusted to "trainer companies" working in conjunction with universities. Alternatively a system of "apprentice lecturer" might enable graduates to progress to their doctorate, perhaps over a longer period. Finally, it was questioned whether in some fields, e.g. the humanities, the traditional criterion for a doctorate - an original contribution to knowledge - was still relevant.

There was much discussion of the place of research. The conclusion seemed to be that while a research establishment need not be engaged in teaching, a successful teaching institution needed an element of research; and at the least, a good teacher in higher education needed to keep abreast of scholarship in his field. The greatest controversy arose inevitably over funding and career structure. Governments providing large funds for higher education inevitably wished to know that they were being well spent. While academic independence was vital, providers of funds were entitled to ask for efficiency as well as effectiveness. How was performance to be judged? Consumer choice (i.e. the students themselves and the employment market) was one element. Peer evaluation based on past performance was another. Success rates or measurement of output was a third, though crude. Some argued that a change in the route by which government money was channelled (e.g. through the student who would pay the realistic fee for his course) would be beneficial in bringing home the true costs both to student and institution. The diversity of funding sources available to US institutions evoked envy and some consideration was given to how to emulate them. However, the system of government funding in Germany and France seemed not to be questioned. (The impact of the wider common market in Europe from 1992, both on the flow of students and in the field of jobs, was raised towards the end, but will have to be pursued at another conference.)

Finally, academic career structures, appraisal, recruitment and tenure were discussed, arousing strong feelings. The arguments are well known: the conclusion seemed to be that appraisal of teaching staff - the faculty - was bound to come, whatever the perceived difficulties, and it behoved universities to attempt to make it work. And for it to work, institutions would have to provide training where necessary, to raise teaching skills. The replacement of the ageing faculty was a general concern, (in one department quoted the last appointment was in 1972). One remedy might be the employment on a part-time basis of people with experience in other fields. The news that tenure in British universities was likely to be abolished was greeted with incredulity from the States. Some pointed out that it had never existed in the English polytechnics without the dire consequences forecast. Others remained unconvinced that the independence of teaching in higher education could long survive such abolition.

In sum, the weekend saw a stimulating discussion. No conclusions of universal application were reached. While there was virtual unanimity about aims, there was a useful exchange of views about the varied ways of achieving them, springing from the different experiences and traditions of the four countries represented. If there were general points to be carried away, I think they were: wider access, diversity of choice at entry and of levels of achievement at exit, the importance of scholarship and/or research as a basis for inspirational teaching, and value for money through greater efficiency, staff appraisal, and perhaps a re-routeing of public money, e.g. through the student, all against a background in which, lamentably and with only some exaggeration, the academic world, especially in the US and the UK, tended to see government as mean-spirited and short-sighted and government to regard academics as self-serving and hide-bound.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: Dr John E Brademas
President, New York University; Member and Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Chairman, New York State Council on Fiscal and Economic Priorities; Columbia Pictures Entertainment; American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Loews, Inc.; Onassis Foundation; New York Stock Exchange; Rockefeller Foundation; University of Notre Dame; Member, Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology and Government; Consultant Panel to the Comptroller General of the United States; National Commission on the Public Service; a Director, the American Ditchley Foundation

List of Participants by country

Professor John Ashworth

Vice Chancellor, Salford University; Chairman, National Computing Centre; Director, Granada TV; Chairman National Accreditation Council for Certification Bodies, British Standards Institution, BSI; Member, Programme Committee, Ditchley Foundation
Mr Christopher Ball
Warden, Keble College, Oxford; Chairman, Board of National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education in England; Mamber: Hebdomadal Council; Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA); Member, Editorial Board, Oxford Review of Education
Mr Anthony Chamier
Head, Further and Higher Education, Branch 1, Department of Education and Science
Professor R M Dworkin
Professor of Jurisprudence, Oxford University; Member, Council, Writers and Scholars Educational Trust; Member, Programme Committee, Ditchley Foundation
Professor E W Handley CBE
Regius Professor of Greek and Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge (1984-); Member, Comité Scientifique, Fondation Hardt, Geneva; Member, Commission des Affaires Internes, Union Academique Internationale
Mr Russell Hillhouse
Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office
Dr Graham Hills
Principal and Vice-Chairman, Strathclyde University; Member, Pay Review Board for Nurses, Midwives and Professions Allied to Medicine; Scottish Post Office Board
Mr Donald Hirsch
Home Affairs and Education Correspondent, The Economist
Mr Robert Jackson MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science; Member of Parliament (Conservative), Wantage
Prof Elie Kedourie
Professor of Politics, University of London; Editor, Middle Eastern Studies
Mr P W L Morgan
Director of Corporate Services, IBM United Kingdom Ltd; member, British Computer Society, Institute of Directors; Board Member, IBM UK Holdings, IBM UK Trust and National Com­puting Centre; member. Overseas Committee, Confederation of British Industry (CBI); the DTI Focus Committee and Management Committee, Action Resource Centre
Sir Alastair Pilkington FRS
President, Pilkington Brothers Ltd; Member, Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology; Pro-Chancellor, Lancaster University; a Governor and Member of the Council of Management, the Ditchley Foundation
Dr Raymond Rickett
Director, Middlesex Polytechnic; Member, Committee for International Co-operation in Higher Education (Vice Chairman); Member, Open University Council; Council for Industry and Higher Education
Mr M J Spackman
Under Secretary, and Head of Public Expenditure Economics and Operational Research Group, HM Treasury
The Hon Richard Stanley
Governor, Bradfield School; G T Venture Capital
Ms Auriol Stevens
Baroness Warnock DBE

Mistress, Girton College, Cambridge; a Governor, the Ditchley Foundation
Ms Maureen Woodhall
Senior Lecturer in Higher Education Finance, Institute of Education, University of London

M Alain Bienaym
Professor of Industrial Economics, Universite de Paris Dauphine; Honorary Member, Conseil Economique et Social; Vice President, Société d’Economie Politique
M Daniel Vitry
Technical Adviser, Higher Education Section, Ministry of Education, Paris; Chairman of the study group “The University of Tomorrow”, set up by the Minister of Research and Higher Education to consider the future of universities

Dr Peter Kreyenberg

General Secretary, Wissenschaftsrat, Koln, Advisory Council on Higher Education and Research Policy to the Federal Government and the governments of the Bundesländer
Dr Klaus Peters
Recently retired Chancellor, University of Wuppertal (1972-88); lawyer.

Mr Robert H Atwell

President, American Council on Education
The Hon Lynne V Cheney
Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); Member, Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution; author
Dr Winston J Churchill
General partner, Bradford Associates, Princeton; Member, American Bar Association; Trustee, Georgetown University; Trustee and Vice-Chairman, American Friends of New College, Oxford
Mr Robin A Elliott
Vice President for Development and External Affairs, Hunter College of the City University of New York
Mr Chester E Finn Jr
Assistant Secretary for Research and Improvement and Counselor to the Secretary, US Department of Education
Mr Fred Hechinger
President, The New York Times Foundation Inc.; Education Columnist; Member, Board of Directors, Academy for Educational Development, Carnegie Corporation, New York, Foreign Policy Association
Dr Nannerl O Keohane
President and Professor of Political Sciences, Wellesley College, Massachusetts; a Director, the American Ditchley Foundation
Dr Richard M Krasno
President-Chief Executive Officer, Institute of International Education
Dr Gerald D Laubach
President, Pfizer Inc; Director, CIGNA Corporation, Philadelphia; Director, Millipore Corporation, Bedford, Massachusetts; Member, executive committee of the Council on Competitive­ness, the Corporation of the Rockefeller University Council, the National Academy of Engineering; member, Board of Governors, The New York Academy of Sciences; member, Corporation Committee for Sponsored Research of MIT; Member, Advisory Council, the American Ditchley Foundation
Dr Stephen Low
Director, The Johns Hopkins Bologna Center, Bologna
Dr John H Moore
Deputy Director, National Science Foundation
Dr Robert Rosenzweig
President, Association of American Universities
Dr Jack H Schuster
Professor of Education and Public Policy, The Claremont Graduate School, California; Guest Scholar, Brookings Institution. Washington DC.; Chairman, Committee T. American Association of University Professors; Member, American Council on Education’s National Leadership Development Group; Member, US Department of Education’s Advisory Committee for the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty; Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Higher Education
Dr Donald M Stewart
President, The College Board, New York; Trustee, Martin Luther King, Jr Center for Non-violent Social Change, Grinnell College, Teachers College, Columbia University, the Markle Foundation, the Committee for Economic Development; Member, Council on Foreign Relations
Dr Thomas R Wolanin
Senior Legislative Associate with responsibility for educational issues with Congressman William D Ford
Mr Hans Wolf Vice Chairman and Chief Administrative Officer, Syntex Corporation, Palo Alto, California