Higher Education: commodity or common good?

Baroness Helena Kennedy, Principal, Mansfield College, University of Oxford

Higher education changes lives and has huge benefits for all who experience it; in this sense it is a private good. But higher education is more than that – it is also a public good, a common good, which enriches the lives of the nation and everyone in it. But if it is a common good, do we currently have the right funding model to support it?
In this talk Baroness Kennedy will argue that there is now a consensus that the supposedly sustainable funding model imposed on higher education two years ago is already proving unsustainable; the raising of fees has not worked, and there are now many people unable to repay loans. The reason is that the assumptions on which this funding model was based are unsound. No robust theoretical justification for the model has ever been provided, nor has any sizeable body of empirical evidence been produced to support it.

In these circumstances she will argue that we now have to look again at the system of higher education funding and decide whether the education of our young is a priority for our society or not. If it is, she will argue, it needs our investment. As a common good, as a public good, higher education needs to be supported from the public purse.

Helena Kennedy has been the Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford since 2011. Earlier appointments include being president of the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University from 2002 and the first Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University from1994. In 1995, she was a member of National Commission on Education and chaired a committee that looked at further education. She is currently the president of a small foundation that provides bursaries for disadvantaged students moving from further education into higher education, and is interested in the role of further education in providing a second chance for people to enter higher education.