Recent radical changes to university education in England have been discussed largely in terms of the arrangements for transferring funding from the state to the student as consumer, with little discussion of what universities are for. It is important, while challenging the economic rationale for the new system, to resist talking about higher education only in the language of economics. There is a strong principled case for rejecting the extension of neoliberalism to education and university education especially. ‘The market’ claims to be the language of perfect rationality: thus it narrows the range of what can be said and thought, driving out the other forms of rationality to which it is the function of education and culture to introduce successive generations. One distinctive role of the university, in our time as always, is to speak richer and more complex languages, invoking other values and goods than those which currently underpin what passes for policy.