THE CREATION of the world's biggest "university of the arts and design" is one idea the London Institute is considering in the second phase of a review of its five art colleges.
The strengths of the five - Camberwell, Chelsea, Central Saint Martin, London College of Fashion, and London College of Printing and Distributive Trades - lie mainly in the visual arts, design and communication.
But Roger McClure, institute finance director and head of the review, says the institute hopes to expand into the performing arts.
"Our ambition is to create the complete arts institution where all these aspects of culture are brought together. The time is right because we are seeing more and more blurring in the creative industries themselves," he said.
The institute has degree awarding powers up to postgraduate taught degrees, but it also wants to award research degrees. This would give it the same status as a university, but not necessarily the title.
The review, a root and branch probe covering course provision, finances and estate management and other matters, was launched in late 1996 following the appointment of Sir William Stubbs as rector.
The five colleges have a full-and part-time student population of 17,000 served by 1,400 staff, of whom 500 are teaching. The institute's income in 1996 from such sources as the funding councils, research grants and academic fees was over Pounds 60 million.
College heads have had to present detailed folios on courses offered, investments required and student demand for them. These are now being analysed to help the colleges to be more "coherent" in their course planning, said Mr McClure.
The exercise has already resulted in a new institute mission statement. The review team is also committed to reducing the institute's 21 sites to about five - one for each college.
Colleges have reported their own strengths and weaknesses and will similarly be responsible for the detailed implementation of review recommendations.
It has been up to colleges, through the data they have submitted to the review team, to present a case for their future academic plans, for instance, whether they would like to see certain areas contracting or expanding.
But the data can only be used to support a colleges' case to a certain extent, said Mr McClure. "This is not an easy exercise to carry out. You are dealing with highly subjective matters and one person's brilliant course could be somebody else's shambles."
He said the scientific approach used by the review team is appropriate as long as it is intelligently handled.
"The people doing this are all professionals, and we have started from what we do know like applications numbers, whether they are going up or down, offers made to meet targets, student drop-out rates and so on. Things like that are facts that are quite strong pointers as to how courses are perceived by people and give you a certain amount of reliable information about programmes."