Pound-for-pound power

June 28, 2012

You might have thought that someone with Michael Farthing's surname would be sensitive to the point that size is not a determinant of quality ("Too lightweight for the title", Opinion, 21 June). The decision by David Willetts to reduce the numerical criterion for university title is at last recognition that the diversity of the sector should be based on the equivalence of institutions, not the replication of one type of university.

The global reputation of UK higher education to which Farthing alludes is not based solely on the type of university he leads: there are centuries of collective experience among the institutions to whom the new arrangements apply. The specialist colleges of art and design, the conservatoires of music and drama and the agricultural colleges were largely vested in the 19th century. New universities they will be, but new they certainly are not.

The assumption that such institutions cannot contribute to the UK's research agenda is ill-informed; even more so is Farthing's belief in their limited capacity for global competitiveness. The fact is that specialist providers have punched significantly above their weight in both arenas. As for their ability to compete for students in the emerging UK market, there is plenty of confidence among the specialists.

Rather like a farthing's purchasing power, this article's arguments are out of date and of little value.

Stuart Bartholomew, Principal, The Arts University College at Bournemouth

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