Pressure growing on universities to sacrifice intellectual integrity

The intellectual integrity of university degrees is at risk as pressure grows to place emphasis on practical skills, a leading vice-chancellor has warned.

The Government’s former schools chief has attacked university admission rules which give preferential treatment to poorer applicants because of their background.

Sir David Bell said that a university should “stand or fall by its intellectual integrity”, not merely be a preparation for the next stage of life Photo: Brian Smith

Institutions are being forced to re-write their courses to boost the chances of their graduates’ finding work, said Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Reading.

The pressure, he claimed, is coming from students and parents who demand that there is emphasis on “employability” within or alongside undergraduate degrees.

However, Sir David called on academics to resist such pressure to protect traditional courses.

Over time, he claimed, we could see a movement towards more applied disciplines, and greater importance placed on how students are prepared for life, even when they are studying tradition disciplines like English literature, classics and history.

He told the Times: “Universities have got to be careful there, too: what you don’t want to do is to undermine the fundamentals of a discipline because a discipline in a university should stand or fall by its intellectual integrity not merely be seen as a preparation for the next stage of life.”

“What I would be wary of is the fundamentals of a discipline being rewritten merely to serve an employability end,” he said.

The former chief civil servant for the Department for Education also warned that institutions would need to find new commercial revenue to protect their research and teaching as the number of British undergraduates falls because of an ageing population and more employers choosing to train school leavers on their own programmes.

The competition for the dwindling number of British students will grow, he predicted, and if a university does not have a strong financial position underpinned by commercial activity they will have to pay a higher interest rate to the banks.

Reading is already undertaking such commercial activity, and is the only British university with a private sector partnership to manage all its student accommodation.

The above is taken from the Daily Telegraph 9 April 2013


  1. Universities have a responsibility to subject students to an intellectual exercise AND prepare them for the next stage of their career development, they are not mutually exclusive.
  2. Attitudes like those of Sir David Bell give some sort of indication of how detached from reality some academics are.
  3. He seems shocked that parents are demanding employability strategies (a Government requirement in any case) to help prepare students for the world of work, after all they are paying £9,000 a year for the privilege of “education.”
  4. Linking university courses to the world of work should be compulsory, not seen as being delivered in academic isolation – has he not spoken to any employers about this issue?
  5. This man seems to be in cloud cuckoo land and one has to say he represents an institution not high on the list of many students or one with a long academic history.
  6. I note from his Wikipedia entry that other than 2 years as Chief Executive of Bedforshire County Council he has never really ventured outside the the “hallowed ground” of education.
  7. Perhaps a secondment to a “year in industry” would be beneficial for him to find out how the “real” world works.
  8. And exactly what was the knighthood for?
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2 Responses to Pressure growing on universities to sacrifice intellectual integrity

  1. What do people like David Bell get knighthoods for? Living in the past? Considering his background as a teacher and with Ofsted I am really surprised at his comments which ill-serve students.


  2. Pingback: Sir David Bell and “Employability” Part 2 | Kindadukish's Blog

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