Elite offensive

February 20, 1998

Student recruitment efforts worldwide are suffering from crises in the Middle East and Asia

An elite group of 17 British research universities is giving a series of public lectures in Southeast Asia to counter criticisms that the quality of British higher education is declining.

The Sterling Group hopes the promotional tour may also help student recruitment, highlighting an alternative to Australian and United States institutions.

The group's members are Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford, Reading, Southampton and Strathclyde universities, Imperial College, University College London and UMIST, all of whose engineering departments have five or five-star research ratings. With backing from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the group is giving lectures on advanced engineering research in Singapore and Malaysia, as well as a special lecture series for undergraduates.

Tim Seller, director of Imperial's international office, said there had been bad publicity, particularly in Singapore, about falling standards and dubious admissions procedures in Britain. "I am not giving any credence to such rumours. But we are trying to redress the balance. We would wish to be compared to Harvard and MIT," he said.

Bob Boucher, vice-chancellor of UMIST and council member of the Royal Academy of Engineering, is leading the group. It hopes to help recruitment, but Professor Boucher said the institutions are not just "fair-weather friends" and take an interest in the region and its students in difficult times.

Archie Baker, coordinator of Glasgow's international office, acknowledged that the group was elitist in promoting itself rather than through the British Council, which had to be "everything to everybody". However, he believed that its impact would bring benefits for the whole of British higher education.

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