In a region of error

January 12, 1996

Stephen Court claims to have discovered the next wave of universities - the regionals (THES, January 5). Citing the University of Humberside as an example, he suggests that the market scope of such universities is likely to lead to turf wars or "unhealthy rivalry", not least in Lincolnshire where both Humberside and De Montfort universities operate.

Mr Court's assertions are not sustainable. Universities are quite capable of both (healthy) competition and collaboration, and this is the case in Lincolnshire where De Montfort and Humberside are working closely on network developments for the county, and on other projects. Neither university finds its regional focus debilitating to its international or national endeavours. Quite the opposite.

The University of Humberside is very active outside the UK, perhaps as much as any of the new, and many of the old universities.

Court's arguments do not stand up because, as he half admits, he is unable to describe the relatively exclusive set of characteristics that sustain the typology of a regional university. For example:

* historically many universities (old and new) have regarded service to the region as an essential if not sufficient component of their activities: to be a "regional" is neither special nor novel

* similarly, there is no evidence that such universities ignore national or international roles, and there are plenty of contrary examples

* the closer relationship that "regional" universities have with their business communities (which may or may not be true) can hardly be seen as going "down market", as Court asserts, but as consistent with a key purpose of contemporary university endeavour.

Universities like Humberside are capable of identifying and meeting the needs of diverse client groups in a heterogeneous market place. A rather vague classification of university types is unlikely to promote understanding of these sophisticated organisations.

Roger King

Vice chancellor, University of Humberside

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