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Open Access Higher education: Public good or private commodity?

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Authors who claim that higher education is a public service are often concerned about equity: they are making a normative case that like all education it should be available for everybody. Others stress the external economies: a society with large numbers of highly educated people is more efficient economically and better in many other ways. Finally there is the argument that 'knowledge' is a 'non-rivalrous' commodity; once something is known it is in principle available to all at very low cost and should be organized so that it is. Opponents argue that higher education needs resources, so someone must pay for it and it is more equitable for the costs to be borne by those who benefit most from it. Knowledge may intrinsically be free once it has been discovered, but the acquisition or creation of new knowledge is very expensive and those who acquire or create it need to be reimbursed. It is also argued that competition between independent creators and purveyors of knowledge is inherently more effective in the expansion of knowledge than monopolies of any kind, public or private. This article claims that the arguments on both sides are essentially about finance and concludes that neither public monopoly nor unrestricted market competition are by themselves ways providing the best higher education for all.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The London Review of Education is now published by UCL Press. New issues and all the back content shown here are available through ScienceOpen and accessed from the journal's page at UCL Press Founded in 2003 by the UCL Institute of Education, the journal reflects the Institute's broad interests in all types of education in all contexts - local, national, global - and its commitment to analysis across disciplines using a variety of methodologies. It shares the Institute's aspiration to interrogate links between research, policy and practice, and its principled concern for social justice.

    Drawing on these strengths, LRE is a wide-ranging and engaging journal that features rigorous analysis and significant research across key themes in education, including: public goals and policies; pedagogy; curriculum; organization; resources and technology; and institutional effectiveness. Articles and book reviews are written by experts in education, psychology, sociology, policy studies, philosophy and other disciplines contributing to education research, and by experienced researcher-practitioners working in the field. The highest quality of reporting and presentation are ensured through an independent, anonymised peer-review process. As an entirely web-based open access journal, LRE has been able to offer innovative features and formats including: epistolary conversation; colour photos and illustrations; illustrative video clips.

    LRE welcomes relevant articles and book reviews. Please email them to [email protected]

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