In the news: Michael Carr

March 5, 2004

'The next few years will be momentous for higher education. The Russell Group will have a significant role in shaping events, a role that we intend to play to the full'

As the first executive director of the Russell Group of research-led universities, Michael Carr will have his work cut out.

In the short term, the prime concern of Mr Carr, registrar of Liverpool University since 1990 and the Russell Group's informal secretary since its inception ten years ago, will be to see the higher education bill - ushering in top-up fees - on to the statute books.

But it will take some fine judgement by Mr Carr. One of the key concessions in the higher education white paper, designed to head off a rebellion by Labour backbenchers over top-ups, was the creation of the Office of Fair Access.

Yet, while many Labour MPs unhappy with top-up fees think Offa lacks teeth, universities, including the Russell Group institutions, fear it could have too many and may be overly prescriptive and interfering.

And when - or if - that war is won, Mr Carr will be centre stage trying to make sure the four-year £3,000 cap on top-up fees, which was also crucial to winning over the rebels, is lifted as soon as possible. This would allow the UK's top universities to charge fees that reflect the true costs of educating an undergraduate.

Then there is the small matter of holding together the 19 Russell Group universities. Recently, a breakaway "G5" group emerged, comprising the five richest research universities.

Added to this is the potential break-up of national pay structures as universities in the Russell Group set their own pay levels.

"The next few years will be particularly momentous for higher education," Mr Carr said. "The Russell Group will have a significant role in shaping events, a role that we intend to play to the full."

Mr Carr, 52, a graduate of Durham University, worked at the universities of Sussex, Sheffield and Hull before taking the registrar's job at Liverpool.

He will formally take up the full-time Russell Group post on May 1.

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