Leader: The centre will hold

September 16, 2005

Every time Universities UK holds its annual meeting, there is speculation about its possible disintegration. The organisation's critics (who seldom attend to voice their concerns) have long doubted the point of a representative body that cannot reach agreement on most of the major issues of the day.

This characteristic encourages bland statements such as last week's on post-qualification admissions when the reality is strong feelings on both sides of the argument. It can only become more marked as UUK acquires more members. Surely, then, universities would be better off (financially, as well as politically) relying on the three splinter groups with sufficiently similar interests to be more dynamic. Almost certainly, however, if UUK did not exist, it would have to be invented.

As Drummond Bone, the new UUK president, argued in last week's Times Higher , members of the Confederation of British Industry do not agree about everything, but they recognise the value of a single point of reference.

For three or more pressure groups to replicate the advice, research and representative work that UUK does would be more wasteful than the retention of a two-tier system. Much will depend on Professor Bone. The skilful leadership of Ivor Crewe (surely a funding council chief executive in the making) kept the organisation intact through the minefield of last year's legislation. The aftermath of top-up fees and the run-up to the research assessment exercise may be just as fraught.

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