Need for partners as big business muscles in

March 12, 1999

The threat of global competition, particularly from the US, is finally coming home to UK universities. Those eager to exploit the opportunities, like the Open University, are the exception.

Competition is coming from big established universities such as the consortium of middle-western universities or the western governors. But, more threateningly, it is also coming from commercial outfits with clutches of media and computer interests that see for-profit opportunities in higher education.

They will not get into medical, engineering and scientific education with its high infrastructure costs and health and safety regulations. They are set to cream off the low-cost, high-demand, highly profitable international trade in English-language business, management and communications courses.

Many UK universities depend on this market to subsidise other areas, but they are too small and too broke to meet the challenge individually. They will need partners if they are going to produce the materials and systems needed to tackle the competition. They will also need to sort out niggling problems such as who owns the copyright of materials produced in institutions for distance learning.

The Association of University Teachers has seen the opportunity for staff to earn extra cash to compensate for poor salaries. But if universities are to play in the global game they too must have an interest in their staff's intellectual property. Howard Newby (page 8) warns his fellow vice-chancellors that some radical thinking is needed. That warning is overdue.

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