You ask a fascinating question about political control of higher education. I’d like to tackle this vast subject, but neither time nor space allow for anything more than a superficial account of a few aspects of it. So I’ll begin by trying to list some of the players in the higher education game. Once these are established, how they hold and influence power may be described.
Massification in higher education brings with it many changes including the assumed right of the public to “question special privileges and immunities of academe” (Trow, 2007, p. 244) on the basis of higher education’s “enormous public cost and obvious impact on society” (p. 258). An example of the segment of this cost borne by the U.K. taxpayer is 0.89% of GDP (see Figure 1) which means a cost of around £15.4 billion pounds (Chantrill, 2015a). Governments feel the force of the electorate and respond accordingly, but much interest in higher education resides in non-governmental stakeholders. Such stakeholders also occupy positions inside and outside the university, and these forces create “an entity [i.e. the institute] enmeshed within a set of interactions between parties inside and outside” (Ferrary, 2005, p. 105).
Figure 1. Higher education costs as a percentage of UK GDP, 1993-2015 (based on Chantrill, 2015b)
Bess and Dee (2012) draw upon the work of Ian Mitroff to describe seven methods of generating a categorisation of the stakeholders of higher education, underscoring the recognition that although not universal, “market conditions are replacing state controls as the principal mechanism of higher education steering” (Brennan, 2008, p. 24). But state control will not be handed over easily when so much electoral influence is at risk. Trow, speaking about the European situation, notes that, “higher education has been a provision of government, largely central government, and it is (and will continue to be) hard for them to give more of the power over these systems to the market” (2007, p. 277).
In summary, we can identify many stakeholders by replacing Moriceau’s (2005, p. 95) central ‘company’ with ‘university’ in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Stakeholders in higher education (from Moriceau, 2005, p. 95).
Bess, J. L., & Dee, J. R. (2012). Understanding college and university organization: Theories for effective policy and practice. Volume 1–The state of the system. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.
Brennan, J. (2008). Higher education and social change. Higher Education, 56(3), 381–393. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-008-9126-4
Chantrill, C. (2015a). UK public spending [website]. Retrieved on Nov 30 2015 from: http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/uk_education_spending_20.html
Chantrill, C. (2015b). Time series chart of UK public spending. UK public spending [website]. Created from the data retrieved on Nov 30 2015 from: http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/
Ferrary, M. (2005). A Stakeholder Perspective of Human Resource Management. In M. Bonnafous-Boucher & M. Pesqueux (Eds.), Stakeholder Theory: A European perspective (pp. 104–124). London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Moriceau, J.-L. (2005). Faceless Figures: Is a Socially Responsible Decision Possible? In M. Bonnafous-Boucher & M. Pesqueux (Eds.), Stakeholder Theory: A European perspective (pp. 89–103). London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Trow, M. (2007). Reflections on the transition from elite to mass to universal access: Forms and phases of higher education in modern societies since WW11. In J. J. F. Forest & P. G. Altbach (Eds.), International Handbook of Higher Education: Part 1 Global themes and contemporary challenges (pp. 243–280). Dordrecht: Springer.