Universities used to be communities; they used to be places where intellectual life really happened. They were also places where avant-garde stuff was happening. And that’s – in England anyway – completely ground to a halt. Universities are largely sold as factories for production of increasingly uninteresting, depressed people wandering around complaining. There’s been a middle-management take-over of our education, and it’s depressing. So universities, like the university I was at – Essex, which was a radical, experimental, small university, but had a bad reputation but did some great stuff – have become a kind of pedestrian, provincial university run by bureaucrats. That was one of the reasons why I got out when I got out in 2004.
From an interesting interview here, via Andrew Sullivan
So, I think what’s happened to British higher education is really terribly depressing. A lot of it was self-willed as well; you can blame a succession of governments. It began after the Labor government in the late 70s accelerated by Thatcher and then Major. We went from a model of there being a coherence, a union structure in higher education, to one where – with the disillusion [sic] of the gap between universities and polytechnics in 1992 – universities were increasingly treated like sort of small-scale corporations, yet with none of the inventiveness and freedom of small-scale corporations because they were still dependant upon the block grant subsidies from the government. So it’s a bewildering set of stupid policy adjustments over the last 20-30 years, which has meant that education is harder and harder to get, and teaching is of no importance. All that matters is research and such things. I’ve got a fairly bleak view of education, and certainly in the U.K.