Europe looks to student market

January 2, 1998

British vice chancellors and principals are much more optimistic than their continental peers that student numbers will grow beyond the year 2000, a pan-European survey has found.

Out of 30 university and college heads from the United Kingdom responding to the survey, 93 per cent said that they expected higher education student numbers would have grown by 2010, and none predicted numbers would fall.

This compared with an average 60 per cent of rectors, presidents and vice chancellors from all European countries surveyed who expected growth, and 19 per cent who expected a drop in numbers. Another 16 per cent thought numbers would stay about the same, against only 4 per cent of British vice chancellors who expected no change.

The survey of views held by members of the Standing Conference of Rectors, Presidents and Vice Chancellors of the European Universities was conducted by researchers from Utrecht University to discover how higher education leaders saw European universities shaping up by 2010.

Its findings will be used by the CRE in a debate on European university strategies at its general assembly in Berlin this year.

Nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of the 228 CRE members responding to the survey felt national governments should bear as much responsibility for higher education in 2010 as they do now.

Almost half (48 per cent) saw a greater role for the European parliament in the affairs of higher education. But only 10 per cent of British vice chancellors took this view, with 67 per cent opposed to international government having more responsibility.

A vision of an advanced European student market and of student choice being influenced by universities involved in international networks was shared by around three-quarters of respondents. Even more (86 per cent) expected a firmly established European research market.

Most (72 per cent) thought quality would be important for competing and collaborating institutions.

Throughout Europe there was an expectation that stakeholders other than national governments will influence university governance more in 12 years' time than they do today.

Of these, industry was seen as having the greatest role to play, followed by professional associations, European scientific councils, student interest groups, local government, and even alumni organisations.

British university heads were the most likely to expect that faculties would become more important in the governance of institutions, with 57 per cent taking this view compared with an average of 37 per cent of all respondents.

Although only about half (56 per cent) of institutions involved in the survey had mission statements spelling out their priorities, 84 per cent of respondents expected their university's contribution to "sustainable development" of society to become a more prominent element in any mission.

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