London fields of plenty for regional branches

Private-style courses as UK universities look to reap overseas harvest. John Morgan reports

September 15, 2011

Universities from the UK regions setting up campuses in London are acting like private providers, according to the head of the capital's higher education group.

Meanwhile, Newcastle University has become the latest regional institution to consider the move.

Coventry University, Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of East Anglia have already opened offshoots in the capital - UEA through a joint venture with private firm INTO.

There was discussion of a potential Newcastle campus in London at a recent meeting of the university's council.

However, the minutes have been withheld from publication owing to "commercial confidentiality".

A Newcastle spokeswoman said: "There have been initial discussions with INTO but there are no further details at this stage."

Regional universities opening London campuses are often aiming to attract greater numbers of overseas students, who pay full fees and for whom the capital is a powerful draw.

Critics have raised questions about working conditions and pay for the staff required to work in the capital, as well as the standard of the offering to students at the campuses, housed in rented offices in the City of London.

But Jane Glanville, chief executive of London Higher, said the competition from the campuses - which have joined the umbrella group - was "positive" and welcomed by existing institutions in the capital.

"In a sense, they are operating in a not dissimilar way to private providers," Ms Glanville said of the regional universities in London.

"If you look at what the Glasgow Caledonians and so on are offering, for the most part - not solely - it is based around master's and postgraduate (degrees) and high-level skills."

Continuing professional development in work and areas such as the business, finance and creative industries were major focuses, she said.

Ms Glanville added that London's attractiveness to regional universities was evidence that the capital is "capable of further growth...It operates on a scale and with a dynamism that isn't happening elsewhere (in the UK)."

She said that the campuses "add to the power of London as an international higher education destination".

Although Ms Glanville does not expect a flurry of additional London campuses, she said that she was aware of "one or two" universities that were considering the move.

"I would expect some growth," she added.

UEA's accounts state that the London venture with INTO recorded "a loss of £1.9 million on turnover of £0.9 million" between January 2010 and the end of July that year.

This was "in line with the original plan, reflecting start-up costs and the build-up in student numbers".

The estimated annual rent for UEA London is £1.5 million, the accounts add.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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