July 31, 2003
Denationalise Holloway College

Well, as promised, something before my bed-time, but strictly a copy-and-paste-and-a-comment-if-you're-lucky job.

From today's Telegraph:

Only a market-based funding system which encourages competition can save our ailing higher education institutions, writes Steven Schwartz.

Hurrah, my libertarian prejudices are about to be confirmed.

Just go out and visit our universities. Buildings are shabby, toilets don't work, and roofs leak. Equipment is getting old, staff are underpaid and classes are overcrowded. How did we get to this state and what we can do about it?

Once, universities were private organisations. They made ends meet by a combination of fees, donations, and endowments. After the First World War, they began to ask for and receive public funds. Today, they are financially dependent on the state and display all the characteristics of state-run enterprises, including lack of investment and demoralised staff.

He's right, I think. I visited Commenius University in Bratislava, at just the time when Communism was finally being buried, and the surprise for me was how little it differed in appearance from the average British University.

It reminded me of Royal Holloway College, which is one of the most extraordinary university buildings in Britain, being a brick by brick copy of a French chateau, but in red brick rather than the original white, and completed in the way that original chateau was only intended to be. I know this not because I ever studied at Holloway, but because it was just down the road from where I was raised. I could see its magic pinnacles from my bedroom window. True. Follow the link above, and take the "virtual tour", and see if I'm not right.

And last time I saw the inside of the place, it sported the same faded glorious, barbarians-camped-in-the-ruins style that I had also seen at Commenius, together with the same ugly blockhouses next door, or in the case of Holloway, scattered about in the old grounds. Or in other words, as the RHC website puts it:

Welcome to Royal Holloway - a unique blend of tradition and innovation.

I should imagine that the parallels between the physical appearance of the place and what goes on there intellectually are fairly exact. Although the big change is that Holloway used to be all for ladies, and is now … not bisexual, but you know what I mean. Plus, it's been "merged" with another college. Bedford, I think.

So, denationalise it. Good night everybody.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 AM
Category: Higher education