It is true that some universities, faced with the problem of how to deal with students in a pandemic, have acted in a thoroughly cack-handed and often cruel way (University students feel bullied, tricked and imprisoned. They’re right to protest, 16 November). It is also true that a lot of what they have done, including the dangerous insistence on face-to-face teaching, has been driven by fear that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to make money. But the root of the problem is not universities’ greed, it is the marketisation of higher education. The rot began in 1997, when Tony Blair’s administration, which had promised that higher education would remain free, introduced fees – means-tested, and fairly nominal (£1,000) but, nonetheless, fees – which increased to over £3,000 in 2003 and over £9,000 in 2010. Thus, in 13 years, higher education was transformed from a publicly financed public good into a market-based competitive system run by CEOs paid at CEO levels.
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