Leader: Why not every town should have its gowns

August 30, 2002

Every town in Britain that has not got a university seems to want one. The latest initiative would involve creating the University of Chester from colleges in Chester and Warrington. The idea might add to Cheshire's prestige, one of the few counties to lack a university, but students in Chester, who get degrees from the University of Liverpool, and in Warrington, whose degrees are validated by Manchester University, may regard a Chester degree certificate with less enthusiasm.

The fact that both places are close to world-class universities explains why Cheshire prospered without one of its own, apart from campuses of Manchester Metropolitan University. A new university would have a slight research record and would risk appearing in a lowly position in league tables. It would probably have more severe recruitment problems than existing new universities. Its status would not approach that of the University of Gloucestershire ( THES , August 23), which grew out of an established institution with degree-awarding powers.

Towns from Peterborough to Chester want universities, and people who do not want to travel to get higher education should not miss out. But higher education is available where they live and a new university would not expand access or choice. It is more important to ensure the quality of existing provision than to have a university in every possible location.

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