Leader: New Hefce boss is on a mergers mission

May 18, 2001

Even prime ministers have to win an election before they start to have power and influence. But Sir Howard Newby, who has not yet arrived at his next job running the Higher Education Funding Council for England, already seems to be standing the sector on its head. This week the focus is on the capital, with a possible merger between Guildhall and North London universities. The retrenchment of De Montfort University, Humberside's shift to Lincoln and the merger of Birmingham and Aston (admittedly off the agenda for now) all suggest that his desired reshaping of higher education into larger units with better geographical focus is on many agendas.

The hard part will come next. So far there has been no suggestion that any of the big English cities that boast a pair of universities, one old and one new, would be better served by a single institution. The possible job losses would be a big barrier, rationalising the buildings would be a horror and the financial complications would make all concerned wish for a nice simple job with BT. But the result would be a university with massive student numbers, front-rank research, deep and wide links into the local economy and a position at the top of the education food chain for its region. Plus, of course, a handy slice of goodwill from the new boss of Hefce.

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