Bring on the ‘One Nation university’, says UPP chief

In a new Hepi paper, Richard Brabner says universities must work harder to expand opportunity, reduce division and build community

The higher education sector must ensure fairness for non-traditional students, graduates and taxpayers – and adopt the idea of the One Nation University – according to the director of a higher education charity.

In a new paper for the Higher Education Policy Institute – The One Nation University: Spreading opportunity, reducing division and building community – UPP Foundation chief Richard Brabner argues that the higher education sector benefits the professional classes over those from working-class backgrounds.

This “weakness”, he says, leads to criticism and scepticism towards university expansion that is “higher today than it has been for decades.”

We need to adopt an agenda which enables real choice for working-class students, which kicks away at the last remnants of the ivory tower and promotes pluralism and civil disagreement within the academic community – Richard Brabner, UPP Foundation

In response, according to Brabner, the sector should adopt a One Nation approach – referring to the term coined by Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin in 1924 and which, Brabner points out, has since been used by both left- and right-wing politicians seeking to “heal division”.

The report draws on the UPP Foundation and Hepi’s Public Attitudes to Higher Education in England Survey 2021, which found support for universities was weaker among Leave and Conservative voters, older people and the working classes.

Today’s new paper recommends:

  • the creation of “a new Director or Office for Higher Education and Place” to encourage new provision in left-behind places – including the creation of a Birkbeck-style evening university in every region of the UK and “subject specialist free schools” to preserve threatened subjects.
  • an English version of the New York-based Heterodox Academy – and academic collective promoting “viewpoint diversity” – to provide resources, develop training and support universities on tackling the problems around hostile and unprofessional online behaviour;
  • a Student Community Service Programme to help bridge town-gown and generational divides.

 

“At times the debate about universities is stuck between the status quo and radical alternatives,” said Brabner. “Neither is satisfactory.

“Our sector has many strengths we must maintain, but also one fundamental weakness – its offer to people from the working classes and those who do not share its liberal orthodoxies.

“To change this, we need to adopt an agenda which enables real choice for working-class students, which kicks away at the last remnants of the ivory tower and promotes pluralism and civil disagreement within the academic community.

“With new ministers in place and reforms to higher education in the pipeline, there is no better time for ministers and universities to embrace the One Nation University for the benefit of all.”


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