Look out Oxbridge: the colleges of higher education and small specialist institutions in the GuildHE group can offer better teaching than Oxford and Cambridge universities, the group's new chair claimed this week, writes John Gill.
Throwing down the gauntlet to the elite universities amid ever- increasing market competition, David Baker, the principal of University College Plymouth St Mark and St John, said: "We can do as well, if not better, than a lot of the traditional universities, including Oxbridge."
Professor Baker, who grew up in a working-class family in Bradford before winning a scholarship to study at Cambridge University, explained: "At GuildHE institutions, there is a stronger emphasis on teaching and learning, support and pastoral care, and preparation for employment.
"I would argue therefore that we offer better value for money for many students - especially those from groups that are under-represented in higher education - than research-focused universities.
"It seems to me that a number of institutions in the pre-92 sector have woken up to the fact that they perhaps need to improve in terms of the student experience."
The research-led 1994 Group has made the quality of the student experience a key strategic priority in the run-up to the 2009 review of top-up tuition fees, which is expected to lead to a lifting of the current £3,000 cap.
The research-elite Russell Group was found in a recent study by the Higher Education Policy Institute to offer undergraduates less access to its senior staff and to rely more heavily on postgraduate students for teaching duties, compared with post-92 institutions.
Professor Baker said: "We're much more geared up to the specific needs of our students."