Diversity plan is 'depressing'

February 22, 2002

Market forces should help determine the future shape of higher education in England, according to higher education minister Margaret Hodge.

Ms Hodge, who has been touring campuses up and down the country, has indicated that the government is happy to let the higher education market help universities to diversify.

Candid exchanges with university chiefs have allowed Ms Hodge to put flesh on the bones of the government's plan for a diverse higher education structure.

Ms Hodge and education secretary Estelle Morris have said that they want to see universities concentrate on what they do best and to stop pretending they can do a bit of everything. They would prefer to see universities with little top-quality research concentrate on teaching.

One pro vice-chancellor of a new university spoke of a "depressing encounter" with Ms Hodge.

He said that Ms Hodge showed little sympathy with those newer universities that are set to lose substantial amounts of research money following the funding council's decision to stop funding departments rated 3b and below in last year's research assessment exercise.

New universities have more departments rated 3b and below than pre-1992 universities.

He said that the minister appeared inclined to let market forces shake up the higher education sector.

d she appeared unimpressed by the overall quality of research in post-1992 universities.

The further concentration of research funding following the 2001 RAE will help speed up the process of diversification by forcing weaker research institutions to think hard about maintaining research departments that receive no infrastructural cash.

At the same time, the government is under pressure to give universities more money for teaching students from the poorest areas.

Because it is new universities that tend to excel at widening participation, this would act as a further engine of diversification.

Added to this, the government has signalled its support for a "third stream" of funding to support universities' links with local industry and communities.

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