The quintessential encapsulation of the case against the expansion of Higher Education came from Kingsley Amis. A young academic at Swansea, he wrote a series of articles and letter about Higher Education. In 1960 he had a piece published in Encounter (July 1960) in which he set out the notion that ‘MORE WILL MEAN WORSE’ (original emphasis).
Here’s some of that:
MORE WILL MEAN WORSE. The delusion that there are thousands of young people about who are capable of benefiting from university training, but have somehow failed to find their way there, is of course a necessary component of the expansionist case. It means that one can confidently mention a thing called quality and say it will be maintained. University graduates, however, are like poems or bottles of hock, and unlike cars or tins of salmon, in that you cannot decide to have more good ones. AND MORE WILL MEANS WORSE.
I confess that the hock vs salmon metaphor is lost on me. Amis goes on to criticise the outcome of the ‘Two Cultures’ debate, and the associated call for less specialised degree courses:
The demand for expansion is frequently coupled with the demand for more science, and therefore less arts, in the university. We live in a scientific age, you see. It might be thought that this is just when you want more arts, but no. We are to have more “general courses” of mixed ie diluted, science and arts, more science for the art students – oh, and arts for the scientists naturally. If any policy-making educational body should turn away for a moment from the nodding vice-chancellors and go so far as to consult someone actually engaged in teaching, they will be told unless indeed they pick, as they will tend to and be encouraged to, one of the growing body of numbers-racketeers) that it is already hard enough to turn out an arts graduate who knows something about the arts, without eating into his time at the university, and at school, in order to provide him with a smattering of biology or physics.
Here, then, is the foundational text of the More Means Worse approach. Worth understanding because of its influence. For example, there is something about this anti-expansionist approach in the view taken by UKIP, consistent with the broad, it was better in the 1950s approach that they appear to have.