Context of OU creation

The notion of  technology supporting freedom was behind Wilson’s ‘university of the air’ idea. This article provides a bit of context. 

Josh Patel, ‘The Puzzle of Lionel Robbins: How a Neoliberal Economist Expanded Public University Education in 1960s Britain’, Twentieth Century British History, 2022, pp1-26.

Lionel Robbins (1898–1984) has been identified as one of the leading ‘neoliberal’ economists of his day. However, his name remains irrevocably linked with the massive state-funded ‘social democratic’ expansion of higher education recommended by the Robbins Report (1963). This article explores this paradox. Examining Robbins’s writings on higher education in the context of his economic thought shows how he blended the liberalism of Adam Smith and J. S. Mill, neoliberal economics, and growing demands for personal choice. For Robbins, the atrocities of the Nazi and Soviet regimes demonstrated how the state armed with new modern technologies could endanger freedom and prosperity. But the ‘good society’ might wield technology to secure conditions of freedom and choice. Robbins advocated a system of state-subsidized universities based on ‘student demand’ and which generated social and individual returns. This system would perpetuate what Robbins called the ‘creed of freedom’: a reimagined interdisciplinary liberal education through which students would understand the importance of their specialism to liberal capitalism. His thought on higher education indicates something of the dynamism of post-war British liberalism and the range of support for higher education expansion. It further counters the impression of the British universities as sites of a static and conservative liberal education.

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