Unless the best British universities are given the same independence as their American competitors, the brain drain that is already under way will accelerate for the reasons given by Mara Delius in this issue. The ablest British students will go to more prestigious American universities which offer "needs blind" places for the best and brightest from all over the world. If Cameron and Osborne do not seize their chance to break the state's monopoly power over supply and demand, British universities will become backwaters: overcrowded, mediocre, bureaucratic, with no ability to resist radicalisation. As Ruth Dudley Edwards (Counterpoints) shows in the case of University College London, weak university administrators are squeamish about confronting the Islamists who are splitting the campus into the terrorists and the terrorised. Unlike dons, students are all too aware of this obscurantism.
The government now has a unique opportunity to set students, universities and alumni free to pursue Matthew Arnold's "disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world". Students should be free to pay for their education in a way they choose, with assistance for those who need it. Universities should be free to teach and research what they see fit, at a price the market will bear. Alumni should be free to give back to their alma mater under a philanthropic tax regime. The politics may be fiendishly complex, but the principle has what Disraeli called the "sweet simplicity of the three per cents".