Fees threats won't get us anywhere, Keele v-c says

Head also reaffirms commitment to institution's 'broad-based' heritage. John Morgan reports

May 26, 2011

The government should talk to university heads about potential new funding solutions rather than using "threats and fear", according to Keele University's vice-chancellor.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Nick Foskett also confirmed that he intends to retain a "broad-based" range of courses at Keele. Controversial recent proposals, since dropped by the university, would have led to the closure of its philosophy programme and ethics unit.

Keele was established in 1949 by philosopher A.D. Lindsay as the University College of North Staffordshire. Originally, all its offerings were four-year courses, including a wide-ranging foundation year aimed at breaking down the barriers between disciplines.

That heritage lives on, as more than half its students today are on joint honours courses.

Professor Foskett said that despite the financial pressure on all institutions, Keele would remain a "broad-based university".

"It is hard to offer dual honours if you haven't got a diversity of courses," he said.

Keele is among the many universities that plan to charge tuition fees of £9,000 in 2012. The trend has alarmed the government, which fears the high costs of taxpayer-funded loans and has threatened to cut funding or student numbers to protect the public coffers.

But Professor Foskett said that "all of that noise (and) threats to future funding has actually pushed the fee level up", arguing, as others have previously, that universities factored in the threatened cuts when determining their fee levels.

Professor Foskett said that alternatives to the government's funding regime should be explored.

"Vice-chancellors feel they can come up with rather more sophisticated ways forward than have emerged out of (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)," he said.

"Working in partnership is the answer, rather than threats and fear."

As well as a unique heritage, the university, which is situated just outside Newcastle-under-Lyme, has some distinctive modern developments. In its School of Pharmacy, for example, is the Keele Active Visual Environment (Kave). Using 3-D glasses, students can view interactive images projected across three walls - allowing dizzying swoops and twists through the structure of leukaemia cells, for example, to see why particular drugs stop working.

It is also possible to explore a virtual hospital ward, to be used as a training tool for pharmacy students as they learn to deal with patients and doctors.

Kave is one of only four such facilities in the UK and contributes to the student experience that Professor Foskett counts as one of Keele's strengths.

The university is also looking forward to reopening its Home Farm buildings as a "sustainability hub" in September, following a £4 million renovation. The development will combine teaching and research with short courses for businesses and the local community, as well as an Earth Observatory open to the public.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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