Professor Edward Vickers - Professor of Comparative Education, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan:

'Policy shifts forced universities to take a commercial approach'.

Camilla Cavendish (British universities must stand up to Chinese pressure,'' FT Weekend, November 9) expresses alarm at the apparent willingness of some UK universities to self-censor in the face of Chinese pressure.

But she also asserts that ''operating in a global marketplace does not mean selling out your principles''.

It is the reforms to higher education financing introduced when Ms Cavendish was advising David Cameron in Downing Street that have driven universities to even greater reliance on 'student fees and donations' from sometimes questionable sources.

The withdrawal of most core state funding from the social sciences and humanities accentuated the commercialisation of these fields, transforming the nature of universities as institutions..

In the ''global marketplace'', the customer is always right - and many of those customers happen to be Chinese.

If we believe in academic freedom, we cannot be shocked when an authoritarian regime refuses to subsidise it for us - or to allow its citizens to do so.

And it is disingenuous to accuse university leaders of moral weakness for succumbing to intense commercial pressure, when it is government policy that puts them in this position.

Cavendish praises Oxford University's vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, for rebuffing Chinese pressure, but Oxford's relatively secure finances make it exceptional among UK universities.

A society that truly values academic freedom must be prepared to pay for it.


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