In the Guardian, Michael Arthur and Wendy Piatt, representing the Russell Group of the 20 leading British research-intensive universities, made the following plea:

Our politicians must take a responsible approach to the funding of higher education and recognise that it is one of the jewels in the country’s crown, worthy of protection because of the extraordinary value that it brings to our society, international competitiveness and economy.”

Unfortunately the special pleading of powerful interest groups for protectionism is now centuries old and all previous attempts to protect so called “national champions” have all failed miserably. Therefore the protection of national champions in higher education (or “jewels in the country’s crown”) will only restrict competition, discourage innovation and encourage inefficiency, thereby depriving students of lower prices and/or greater choice. As a result the sector will continue to stagnate and we will all be worse off.

As previously noted by Neelie Kroes (European Commissioner for Competition Policy) in 2007, protectionist pressures can and must be resisted and “[t]hose who put up barriers, or who don’t want to take them down, need to know that they are acting against the interest of their economy and their citizens.” In 2006, the EC Competition Director General was far less charitable when he described national champions as being illegal, immoral and fat!

This blog originally appeared on the IEA website on 26 January 2010.