Happy Birthday THES

Happy birthday to the Time Higher Education Supplement which is celebrating its fortieth birthday this week. The newspaper first came out in 1971, the same year that students first started studying at The Open University, a reflection perhaps that higher education had moved up the political agenda. Matthew Reisz describes the background to the paper’s launch in this week’s issue:

It all started with a direct threat. Macmillan, the publisher of Nature, was planning to launch a paper called Senate, aimed at teachers in higher education. Times Newspapers Ltd was worried that this would eat into the substantial advertising revenue of the Times Educational Supplement – and so, in 1971, the Times Higher Education Supplement was born.

It was an interesting time for the sector and a time of expansion. The Open University, polytechnics and the plate-glass universities were all quite new.  But as this special issue points out:

many of the issues debated on the pages of the THES in its early days are still relevant in the sector today – among them, whether polytechnics should aspire to parity with the older universities or offer a distinct type of education, the merits of establishing a private university and how to fund a mass higher education system.

Times Newspapers Ltd was then owned by the Thomson Corporation and was not part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire until 1981 but some have argued that the Times Higher’s publication of University league tables have shaped the sector in a way that has closer regard for the demands of business than the traditional pursuit of knowledge that some cling to as a University’s purpose.

With higher education undergoing significant change, this is a debate that is highly relevant to both the history and the future of The Open University and that has attracted some interest of late. For example the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at Cambridge University started a lecture series this week on ‘The idea of the university’ and on the same day the University of East London hosted a public discussion on Universities Futures, also asking ‘what is a university for?’ These are issues that will also inform discussion at the History of The Open University’s forum What have we learnt? Transmitting knowledge, facilitating learning c.1960-2010 on 29 November.

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