Bishop: Government must invest in higher education

    11 April 2014

    Bishop of Winchester calls on Government to continue investment in higher education: ‘a public good for the common good'

    – Praises work of Cathedrals Group-

    9 April 2014:

    the Rt Rev Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester and the spokesman for the Church of England on Higher Education, in a speech to the House of Lords has said that threats to university funding could limit access for some students and reduce social mobility. He called on the Government to retain public investment in universities as a public good for the common good of all.

    The Bishop highlighted the important contribution which universities make not only to wealth creation but also to the ‘creative economy’. He argued that the ‘public good’ of universities lies not only in their economic benefits but also in their research and teaching.

    He argued that further reductions in HE funding would leave widening participation projects such as Access to Learning, “vulnerable to further cuts” which needed to be supported by public investment otherwise higher education risked becoming “a private good, affordable to a few.”

    Pointing to the role of the Christian Churches, in improving social mobility through their commitment to higher education,

    the Bishop of Winchester


    “The Cathedrals Group of universities makes a significant contribution to the widening participating agenda...with approximately 48% of 18 to 24 year-olds in each year group accepting a place at university. The Anglican universities have played their part in achieving this target and ensuring that young people from all backgrounds can participate in higher education.”

    He also went on to question whether market driven reforms were the right approach, saying:

    “The privatisation and marketisation of the university may well solve some issues, but could raise many more problems. It is essential that national Governments remain committed to investing in tertiary education. Universities are essential public institutions: a public good for the common good.”


    For more information please call the Diocese of Winchester media team on 020 7618 9197, or email

    The full text of Bishop Tim Dakin’s speech is available


    and reproduced below.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for giving us the opportunity to debate this topic. The Church of England takes seriously its commitment to higher education. Many Bishops have a close involvement with the universities in their diocese, as visitor or chancellor or by sitting on the university council. Indeed, it would not surprise me if the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said something about his commitment in his maiden speech later today. I gather that there is also one Bishop who is currently a student.

    As spokesperson for the Bishops on higher education I have a particular interest in this area, and I offer to your Lordships one understanding of what higher education is for, and particularly what the Anglican institutions can offer to the sector. It is important to invest in higher education as a public good whose purpose is to build up the common good.

    Ten Anglican universities have emerged out of the Church of England investment in higher education over the past two centuries. Alongside these 10 there is another with an ecumenical foundation, Liverpool Hope University, which is where I was yesterday. Together with three other universities that have a Catholic foundation, they make up the Cathedrals Group. The majority of these universities were founded as teacher training colleges in the 19th century before the later rise of the red-brick universities. They were originally established to train teachers required for the many new Church of England schools. These colleges, as vocational institutions, began to develop their own faculties in the university disciplines connected with the subjects that the teachers would teach. With this growth, and with further diversification, many of these colleges became universities in their own right. With their historic foundation and unique ethos, they share with other older universities, and many recently established ones, the questions and challenges facing higher education today. What binds them together is a commitment to higher education as something that is a public good for the common good.

    A number of significant factors are highlighted by those who brief in the higher education sector—for example, the economic contribution of universities, non-economic benefits, the expansion of higher education, university funding and international students. However, unless there is clarity about what higher education is for, the debate about its delivery is confused with its purpose. Put simply, at the highest level the value and purpose of higher education is as a public good for the common good. This perspective on higher education can be considered through three perspectives: generating creative graduates for a creative economy, offering formation for a context of social diversity, and an enabling environment for research and teaching.

    First, it is clear that higher education is a key element in the wealth creation of our society. However, it is not so clear that universities should be assessed, in an instrumental fashion, in terms of the numbers of wealth creators they generate or how their contributions to an economy are directly attributable. Yet it is good to note that Universities UK has reported that the sector made a contribution of £73 billion to gross national productivity in 2011-12, and that this was a 24% increase on the previous evaluation in 2009. So it would be true to say that the contribution of a university, particularly to the local economy of its region, is an important aspect of what universities are for. The Million+ manifesto has suggested some strategic actions that could be taken to enhance the role of a university in the development of a local economy. Such initiatives would seem to chime well with the Government’s own commitment to developing major cities, and with their contribution to the GDP. One such city in my own diocese, Southampton, has seen a notable rise in its GDP. Not insignificant to that improvement is the role of Southampton University as a force in the region.

    However, there is a certain obliquity to this goal of economic productivity. It is through aiming at something else that such a goal can best be achieved. For example, to encourage economic productivity it might be best to aim at creativity. It is creative people who contribute the most to the economy. This is because, as John Howkins has advocated, what we have today is indeed “the creative economy”. Today we need to encourage creativity, to enhance the intellectual freedom in which creativity takes place and to embrace the creative challenges that the market presents. A university can generate an environment to encourage such aptitudes in its students. It can unlock their latent talent, especially for those who have not traditionally accessed higher education. It is in this way that the university can contribute through the creativity of its graduates to the common good of the economy.

    Corresponding to the challenge of making a creative economic contribution, with the spread of Anglican universities across the country, in Canterbury, Chester, Chichester, Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Lampeter, Plymouth, Winchester and York there is certainly a sense in which they are making a countrywide contribution to local economies. As a public good, these universities are contributing to national life by providing access to higher education for many who would not otherwise be able to develop their latent talent.

    There is both a vocational perspective and creativity in the ethos of these universities. This includes what some would call a liberal arts world-view, both religious and secular. I was inspired yesterday by Cornerstone, Liverpool Hope University’s creative campus, in which its ethos of what is a public good and what the common good is for is expressed right in the heart of Everton.

    Secondly, today’s societies require the kind of space in which there is the opportunity to have multidisciplinary engagement reflecting the globalisation of civilization. A university today needs to be able to offer a way of handling the multiversity of our pluralist societies and to include in its community those who have, in previous eras, been unable to participate in or access higher education.

    Today no one individual, discipline or institution can hope to hold a total view. However, what can be encouraged is a form of intellectual inquiry that enables exchange between disciplines and between cultural perspectives and which therefore models new ways of living together in diversity. The value of higher education, its public good, includes the formation of students in a collegiality based on engaging with others and engaging with different kinds of knowledge through conversation.

    The university, especially the university that is networked with others across the globe, is an essential space for enabling the conversation required between disciplines to help us face those global challenges that will diminish the common good: the unfettered power of economic change; the question of climate change and limited resources; and the disturbing forces of cultural differences. Reconciling and resolving differences will require societies that know how to negotiate. However, just when we need greater interaction between nations, and when higher education as a global public good is something many want and will pay for, the UK has made it difficult to study here. Universities are struggling with the limitations the new immigration legislation has placed on international students.

    The Cathedrals Group of universities makes a significant contribution to the widening participating agenda. Not all noble Lords will agree with the target that 50% of young people should participate in higher education, but it is striking that we have nearly achieved that, with approximately 48% of 18 to 24 year-olds in each year group accepting a place at university. The Anglican universities have played their part in achieving this target and ensuring that young people from all backgrounds can participate in higher education.

    Anybody who has spent time exploring the issues around widening participation will know that they are extremely complex. Nevertheless, many universities have found success can be linked to their commitment to develop the whole person by looking further than A-level grades at the admissions stage and exploring a deeper context that can illuminate the real potential of a candidate. From time to time, this might run contrary to the incentives of league tables, but it is completely in line with an optimistic vision of human potential and with higher education as a public good that is for the common good. However, it is a shocking fact that many students who take loans will graduate owing more than £50,000, with interest rates way beyond most market returns and a repayment scheme that will tax success, disincentivising social mobility.

    Thirdly, there is a need for universities to promote a world-view for the civilisation of our societies that sees the intergenerational transfer of knowledge through teaching and inspiring the long-term commitment which academic research requires. This is more than a contribution to the economy or to social cohesion; this is about the development of a public good for the common good of civilisation and the flourishing of humanity. The separation of teaching and research universities will not help spread both the world-view of civilisation and its grounding in values of beauty, goodness and truth.

    Such a vision is deeply integrated in the Christian vision and mission, which inspired the medieval universities and contributed to the renewal of universities in the Enlightenment. This is not something that can be easily illustrated, but it is about a world-view of inquisitiveness and persistence, open to reality. Some discoveries, or applications of discoveries, require a capacity resourced by a world-view of ongoing exploration of this world and its meaning.

    The world-view of the great medieval universities such as Oxford and Cambridge and those of the modern universities such as Berlin and London meant that they were such institutions. Universities such as these require investment for the common good by those who have responsibility for the common good. However, focusing research in just a few universities and in certain kinds of disciplines will undermine the very inquisitiveness and spread of research required. I am delighted that Liverpool Hope University has one of the best research centres on world Christianity. It might be a key resource for understanding today’s renewal of global religion and its impact on our societies.

    The budget for HEFCE has been reduced. The implications are grave, especially for vulnerable communities. Funding for research has been ring-fenced, as has the allocation for funding-intensive subjects such as engineering and science. But this leaves the widening participation projects, such as Access to Learning, vulnerable to further cuts. There is need for public investment in universities, otherwise what is currently a public good will again become a private good, affordable to a few.

    The Government’s intentions for higher education are a concern. There is a simplicity about lifting the cap on numbers and fees and allowing market forces to have their way, but if we wish to build on improvements in primary and secondary education we need to invest in the public good of higher education. There is a need for framework and a rationale for state support beyond free universities.

    There may well be a reduction in higher education in the coming years, but let us not let that happen in a brutal fashion. We need universities who take seriously their public role, not just in contributing to the creative economy and social cohesion of globalised societies, but as institutions that also pursue, with academic rigour, new knowledge based in grounded research and good teaching. The privatisation and marketisation of the university may well solve some issues, but could raise many more problems. It is essential that national Governments remain committed to investing in tertiary education. Universities are essential public institutions: a public good for the common good.