Leader: NHS university seems a hasty prescription

October 12, 2001

The government's idea for a University of the National Health Service is broadly a good one. It was promised in Labour's election campaign and looks set to happen. But details so far imply that, as too often, more thought is needed.

The prospectus sent to potential applicants for the post of chief executive seems to have been written by the Department of Health with little input from the Department for Education and Skills. It holds out the possibility of the world's biggest university in terms of student numbers, commissioning, providing and assessing courses.

The NHS is pressing ahead on its own with a project that will affect colleges and universities. It ignores recent painstaking partnership-building at all levels within the NHS and universities. In March, the secretaries of state for health and education met for the first time to discuss the relationship. Universities UK, the educators of doctors and nurses and people and organisations in medicine all need to have their say.

The NHS university is aimed primarily at training those without professional qualifications, although the prospectus envisages degree-awarding powers and a royal charter. Already there is confusion reminiscent of the cloudy start of the University for Industry: is it a university in terms of level and what will it be called? Ad hoc creation of an instant university is not so simple when Bolton and others have long been queuing for the title.

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