London branch campuses ‘offer much less’ than parent institutions

Analysis of capital outposts finds staff are not as well qualified and facilities are typically less impressive

April 29, 2019
Source: Getty
Metropolitan messages in promoting their branches in the capital, UK universities ‘are selling the experience of living in London’

Students at UK universities’ satellite campuses in London receive teaching from less-qualified teachers and have poorer facilities than learners on the institutions’ main campuses, researchers have claimed.

Rachel Brooks, professor of sociology at the University of Surrey, and Johanna Waters, lecturer in geography at UCL, analysed prospectuses, YouTube videos, websites and material from open days from the 14 UK universities that have branch campuses in London.

Their research, presented at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference, found that the marketing for satellite campuses was aimed primarily at the lucrative international student market, focusing on the benefits of living in London.

However, the capital location “serves to substitute and compensate for lower levels of resources provided directly to the student from the university”, they found.

The research showed an absence of a substantive campus environment, such as dedicated accommodation, and a general lack of focus on “pedagogical” matters in almost all marketing materials, Professor Brooks told Times Higher Education.

“London landmarks, such as St Paul’s [Cathedral] or Tower Bridge, feature prominently in the marketing material – they are selling the experience of living in London,” she said. “However, if you look at the parent campus, there is a lot of emphasis on the university’s own buildings, where the students learn, and the extracurricular activities they can do.”

The study follows on from a 2014 report from the Quality Assurance Agency that also raised concerns about the quality of provision and the level of student achievement at London campuses. Institutions that have outposts in the capital include the University of Liverpool, Newcastle University and Warwick Business School.

Analysis of staff profiles conducted by Professor Brooks and Dr Waters showed that the general level of academic qualification of staff at London campuses was significantly lower than at the parent campus.

In many of the branches, teachers were more likely to have professional, rather than academic, experience. “The Coventry University London website suggests that the vast majority of its staff have come straight from industry, with no prior background in higher education,” the authors report.

In the case of Northumbria University London, the teaching is outsourced to a private agency.

Although this “does not necessarily mean the quality of teaching is lower”, it is different from the parent university and does mean that students will have access to less research and teaching expertise than they would at the parent campus, according to the study.

Professor Brooks said the findings raised questions about inequalities arising from the pursuit of international students by UK universities.

“International students often have a hard time, feeling excluded or having trouble adapting to British ways of studying, and this shows another way that they don’t always get the best experience,” she said. “They might be very attracted to studying in London but don’t realise that the quality of the education they are receiving might be significantly less than if they had gone to the same institution but in another part of the country.”

In response, Liverpool said that the only London-based staff who did not have PhDs taught finance, accounting or similar courses. “The University of Liverpool in London offers a bespoke portfolio of programmes delivered by talented teaching staff who have the academic and professional qualifications suited to the programmes delivered there,” a spokeswoman said.

Coventry University said that it “completely disagree[d] with the claim that the standard of teaching offered at Coventry University London is inferior to that offered on the Coventry campus”.

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Reader's comments (1)

Students do choose to come to London for the city itself and that is a valid reason. Would be interesting to hear the feedback from actual students studying at these campuses, rather than some desk-based research by a professor of an institution with "London just 34 minutes away by train" and a lecturer from a London university. I think looking into branch campuses and the quality of delivery and experience is very valid, but feel there are too many gaps in what has been looked at here to draw conclusions.