The £700 million Francis Crick Institute must not become a resource only for London and the South, and should benefit universities across the UK, the former head of the Higher Education Funding Council for England has said.
Sir Alan Langlands said he was “worried” by language used by George Osborne last week, in which the chancellor called on northern universities to “rise to the challenge, and come up with radical, transformative long-term ideas for doing even more outstanding science in the North”.
“I look at London and I see the largest research institute in Europe – the Crick Institute – being built,” Mr Osborne said in his address at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on 23 June, referring to the interdisciplinary medical research institute due to open in the capital next year. “What’s the Crick of the North going to be? Materials science? Nuclear technology? Something else? You tell me,” Mr Osborne said.
But speaking to Times Higher Education at the Global Universities of the 21st Century event in Liverpool last week, part of the International Festival of Business, Sir Alan, vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, said the reference to a “Crick of the North” concerned him.
“The Crick is a UK institute,” he said. “It may be based in St Pancras, but it is for the whole country and that was the basis on which it was set up.
“It is terribly important that the Crick works intensively with universities in Scotland, which have a great life sciences community, with universities in the North of England and indeed in the Midlands and the South.”
The Crick, he said, was “a UK asset” and it must not serve only the so-called “golden triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London.
Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Osborne said that although the North of England had “some of the best universities” in the world, the towns and cities in which they are based needed to improve collaboration in order to become “more than the sum of their parts” and create what he termed a Northern powerhouse. A new high-speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds, dubbed “HS3”, and better rail connection across the North were key to encouraging better connectivity, he said.
Sir Alan welcomed those plans. “If you want Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle humming, then they have got to be connected by big transport links,” he said.
“I think [HS3] is probably the single most important thing that could be done to release the energy and potential in the North of England, including within its universities. We collaborate all the time, you don’t need to physically move around to collaborate always, but that connectivity would add an extra dimension and enable people to work more easily together.”
Speaking at the same event, for which THE was a media partner, Andy Westwood, chief executive of GuildHE, said that Mr Osborne had identified that the “dangerously unbalanced economic geography of the UK” needed to be fixed.
“In government spending terms, we are the most unbalanced country in pretty much the whole Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, certainly in Europe,” he said. “I don’t think getting from Liverpool to Hull an hour quicker is necessarily going to solve all those problems…it is going to take something like doubling the science budget to reverse that trend.”
Read the small print: international recruiters leave universities red-faced
Flawed contracts drawn up between universities and international student recruitment agencies are leaving institutions out of pocket and embarrassed, a conference has heard.
Speaking at the Global Universities of the 21st Century event in Liverpool, Karen Stephenson, a partner in the education team at Weightmans solicitors, described some of the tricky situations that her university clients had found themselves in after working with untrustworthy overseas recruiters.
“One [agency] was taking fees directly from students…so 46 international students arrived, they had paid their fees, but the university had not received them.”
The agency’s action violated its agreement with the unnamed university, but it left the institution facing “a huge public relations nightmare”, Ms Stephenson said.
“The university took it on the chin and taught the students without the fees.” If the students in question were enrolled in an undergraduate degree with tuition fees of £15,000 a year, the university will have missed out on just under £700,000 in first-year payments.
In another case, a university had signed contracts with a “non-UK jurisdiction clause”, meaning that any legal challenges would have to take place in the country in which the agency was based. Because of this, “one of our clients had to spend three weeks in Malaysia”, she said.
Ms Stephenson also warned universities not to let a desire to boost overseas student numbers lead them to promise more than they could deliver.
“If you do that you will have a large body of students who will then complain and litigate, there will be an increasing failure rate and transfers to other institutions,” she said. It was “all very well and good” recruiting hundreds of overseas students, she noted, but “if they don’t pay their fees…that’s a problem”.
In another example, she described a response sent to a university by a student who had failed a master’s degree course but not yet paid the course fees. “It was a one-line letter. It said: ‘Find me, I’m somewhere in China.’”