Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Not Quite Getting It

Matt Grist argues in the Guardian that universities should be considered like any other business. His argument is as follows:
markets are messy places where people are trusted to use their own initiative to make the right choices. This is desirable because people are closer than governments to the facts. What's more, a lot of knowledge about markets is hard to articulate: it is stored in habits and "common sense", and so not at all amenable to standardised interpretation.
So to trust markets is to trust the wisdom of the public to run their own lives. In the case of higher education, this is to trust students and parents to work out whether a university is any good or not, as opposed to trusting central government or vested interests to do so.
If you're wondering why he doesn't think the same argument applies to so many other cases it's because he doesn't quite get it:
Of course, it is true that markets are not always the best means for ensuring quality, efficiency and fairness, which is why we should be pluralists about them. The railways in Britain are a case in point. Where there is no effective competition, how can there be a market? I can't choose between train operators if only one can get me from London to Manchester. Similarly, until bad schools are allowed to fail and good schools expand, it is hard to see how a market for schools can work.
Has Matt not watched Braveheart?

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