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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: October 2011

Twenty-three - The Robbins Report

Summary

The Conservative government under Harold Macmillan had been reelected in October 1959 with an increased majority: a result Lionel Robbins had not expected, even though, as he commented to Caroline on 11 October, it was ‘a striking vindication of the maxim that you don't shoot Santa Claus’. On 5 December he told her he had been unexpectedly summoned to see R.A. Butler, Home Secretary since 1955, and was even more surprised to be invited ‘to be head of a committee, which for technical reasons is not to be a Royal Commission but which in most respects will resemble one, which is to investigate the future of University Education & research in this country. This is a very big job – two years at least – and at first my instinct was to refuse.’ As he wrote (1971a, 273), he told Butler, ‘as politely as I could’, that he would prefer to devote time to his new position at the FT and to writing his book on the principles of economics. Butler urged him to talk to Tom Padmore, now Sir Thomas Padmore and second secretary of the Treasury. Padmore knew Lionel well: when they lunched together he deployed an argument Lionel could not counter: ‘he just asked me why I did not want to do this thing. I explained that…the next few years were probably my last opportunity of writing a book which I had been wanting to write most of my academic life. At this, with friendly directness, he asked if I thought that anything I had in mind to write was likely to be as important as trying to sort out the contemporary problems of the system of higher education in this country.…I could not honestly deny it.’ So, within forty-eight hours of Butler’s invitation, Lionel had accepted it (Butler to LCR, 1 December 1960, Career, RP), telling his sister he expected the task would mean ‘at least 1 day per week taking evidence, visiting the U.S. & the continent & eventually writing the main part of the report, so I shall clearly have my plate full for some time to come. But at least I shan't be bored.’

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