Leader: Manchester leads but few are likely to follow

August 1, 2003

One change that virtually all the experts agreed would flow from the white paper was a spate of mergers. They may still come, but the reconfiguration of higher education is looking more difficult to achieve than many expected. The notable exception is in Manchester, where the merged university has the opportunity to turn the Golden Triangle into a trapezium.

The problems besetting other proposed mergers underline the scale of Manchester's achievement. From London's shortlived courtship between Imperial and University colleges, to this week's concerns over Thames Valley University and Reading College, it is clear that winning consent for formal union is far from easy. Perhaps the federal model, which has been under such strain in London and Wales at times, will prove to be serviceable after all. Art and design colleges think so as they face up to further competition from an expanded university sector, and Graham Zellick, the outgoing vice-chancellor of the University of London, sees advantages in extending his federation - although he is choosy about who might join. Others will prefer more informal arrangements. The brave new world of higher education will still require collaboration, but the organisational change may be less dramatic than we envisaged.

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