chapter  3
Quality issues in higher education
Pages 9

The theme of this chapter is the changing, and increasingly paradoxical, nature of the relationship between the state and higher education. The ‘quality debate’ in higher education is best understood within these changing, contradictory relationships. Although the debate about quality in higher education is international, as is the changing nature of the relationship between the state and higher education, the precise relationship between government and higher education in the United Kingdom enjoys some peculiarly British charactistics-peculiar, because of a prior historical situation in which the universities, to a degree unique by European standards, enjoyed an almost total autonomy from the state. They were, in a sense, publicly funded private corporations. Comparative European measures of participation suggest that the move towards a mass system of higher education is bound to have a profoundly radical and traumatic impact on these uniquely British institutional arrangements for the delivery of higher education. This explains the frequency with which the term ‘crisis’ is used to describe the condition of British universities (Peters 1992:123-5).