Leader: Strength in diversity

March 12, 2004

Alex Neil's proposal for one university per city will make obvious sense to many outside observers of higher education. In England as well as in Scotland, the existence of at least two universities in all the major cities must seem an unnecessary extravagance. But the diversity of British higher education is one of its strengths, and the critics might be surprised at how little real overlap there was, once they scratched the surface of the institutions they would like to merge. Even apparently similar subjects are approached in very different ways for different audiences.

What is needed if Scotland (and the rest of the UK) is to maintain its competitiveness in research is more collaboration between institutions.

This is on the way in England with networks such as the White Rose consortium and London Higher, which are breaking down longstanding rivalries as a matter of necessity. In Scotland, the bilateral link is the collaborative instrument of choice, but the level of activity is no less.

Far better to let the shared interests of researchers break down the boundaries, rather than struggling with cultural differences in unwanted institutional mergers.

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