Boost for colleges in new title stakes

January 23, 2003

Key points  

  • Research degree powers no longer needed for university status, opening the door to colleges of higher education to apply
  • Modernisation of degree-awarding powers to reflect increased diversity in higher education

Colleges of higher education will be given fresh opportunities to acquire university status in one of the more unexpected changes sanctioned by the government.

The requirement for all universities to have the power to award research degrees will be scrapped in recognition of the enhanced value placed on teaching in higher education.

Candidates for promotion will still have to satisfy the remaining criteria, which include student numbers and variety of provision.

Education secretary Charles Clarke, who carried out a study of higher education colleges in the early 1990s before entering parliament, is aware of the impact of denying institutions a university title. Student recruitment is affected, especially overseas.

The white paper says the standard of teaching in many higher education colleges surpasses that in universities. The stipulation that university status should rest on ability to demonstrate strength in research is said to be “at odds with our belief that institutions should play to diverse strengths”.

Mr Clarke said that the Bolton Institute of Higher Education, which was refused university status in 2001, was the obvious first candidate for promotion under the arrangements.

Changes in the degree-awarding powers to cover the “legitimate roles of those outside the university sector in providing high-quality higher education learning” will be considered by the Quality Assurance Agency at the same time as it looks at university titles.

The new system should be in place during 2004-05.

The Standing Conference of Principals, which represents 47 colleges that deliver about 10 per cent of higher education in England, welcomed the news.

Executive secretary Patricia Ambrose said: “We see the changes in the rules on university title as a welcome first step in a process that provides greater recognition of the role of the colleges.”

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