Elite, against the odds (2 of 3)

November 11, 2010

Universities need to be able to plan in order to deliver high-quality courses. But student choice is likely to be fickle, with income course by course hard to predict from year to year.

How will the market affect the position of lecturers? Mass redundancies are predicted, but beyond that? The indispensable requirement is lecturers with relevant expertise. To build a reputation that can justify charging students £9,000 a year, universities will need lecturers who have made their names, ideally on the international stage.

The "selecting" universities may suddenly find that big-name lecturers have to be enticed to stay. Academics may be prepared to bargain not just for higher salaries, but for time to think; freedom to choose the areas of their teaching and research; and freedom to publish as and when they want.

The "recruiting" universities often do not know until shortly before the beginning of the academic year how many students are taking any given course. In future, they will need this information before they can calculate whether they can afford to pay the salaries of the course teachers.

Students in a system led by consumer choice are not going to take kindly to being told on arrival that their course will not be running or will be merged with another because the university had to make the academic staff in that area redundant last year.

And once they need them again, universities will find that lecturers with the appropriate expertise cannot be rehired at a week's notice.

G.R. Evans, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge.

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