British combat waning status

April 17, 1998

An elite group of British universities concerned to "rehabilitate" Britian's higher education reputation overseas will today discuss boosting its membership and expanding its outreach work, writes Olga Wojtas.

The 17-member Sterling Group has already made a promotional tour of Southeast Asia, giving both public and specialised lectures on engineering. It originated through the Singapore-based Conference and Exhibition Secretariat, which alerted institutions that the Singapore and Malaysian governments were becoming disenchanted by perceived falling standards in British higher education, and the commercialisation of recruitment.

Donald Hagger of CES said: "This is not a recruitment exercise. It is the rehabilitation, if you like, of reputations which have potentially been damaged. The group is concerned with promoting the reputation of its members as institutions with the highest level of scholarship, research and teaching."

Today's meeting aims to formalise membership criteria, which will include a spread of 5 and 5-star research ratings. Another four or five universities are set to be invited to join Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford, Reading, Southampton and Strathclyde universities, Imperial College, University College London, and University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. Members' status will be reviewed annually.

The group is also likely to decide to expand its promotional work to disciplines beyond engineering, and to Europe and the Americas as well as Southeast Asia.

Mr Hagger said a key move would be the establishment of a small executive committee, drawn from and funded by the universities. "Essentially the group has to have an administrative backbone to ensure that the wishes and decisions of the group are actually put into practice, and things happen."

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