Half of HE colleges set sights on university status after rule change

March 14, 2003

More than half of all higher education colleges are set to bid for a university title, a THES survey has found.

Colleges already planning to apply to call themselves a university have been joined by a larger number aiming to acquire the title under new rules proposed in the higher education white paper.

The proposals, which could allow institutions with solely taught degree-awarding powers into the university club, have also encouraged specialist colleges to aim for the title.

Art and design colleges that recently formed their own lobbying and marketing group, the UK Art and Design Institutes Association (Ukadia), said they would be interested in forming a federal university.

Other specialist colleges hope that the current requirements on subject spread in a university will be relaxed enough to let them in.

Of the 21 colleges responding to a poll, seven said they would apply for the university title and five others said they would apply once they had gained taught degree-awarding powers.

Two art and design colleges said they were interested in helping to form a federal arts university, similar to the University of the Arts in the US.

The list of would-be universities now runs to 18 out of a total 35. It includes Canterbury Christ Church University College, Edge Hill College, Southampton Institute, University College Northampton, Liverpool Hope, University College Chichester, University College Worcester, Cumbria Institute of the Arts, St Mary's College, Writtle College, Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies, and Falmouth College of Arts, with Dartington College of Arts and Kent Institute of Art and Design interested in a federal model.

These are in addition to the Bolton Institute, the London Institute, Bath Spa University College and Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, which have already expressed their ambitions.

The news will ruffle the feathers of Universities UK, whose senior officials have objected to relaxing the title rules on the grounds that this flies in the face of European definitions of a university.

College heads have countered that no such definition exists and that European higher education is moving from traditional models towards greater diversity.

David Vaughan, principal of Cumbria Institute of the Arts, said: "The white paper has started to open the doors to new thinking."

Vaughan Grylls, principal of Kent Institute of Art and Design and chairman of Ukadia, said that while his college could not consider becoming a university alone, it might want to be part of a federal university.

Eddie McIntyre, principal of Birmingham College of Food, said that institutions such as his would probably apply for the title if the London Institute bid was successful.

The THES survey also found that at least one-third of colleges planned to introduce top-up fees, with 28 per cent ready to charge the maximum £3,000 a year.

Many believed that their institution's level of research activity would not be reduced by plans to increase research selectivity further, although more than a quarter thought they would not be able to maintain research under the new regime.

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