North flexes muscles

November 25, 2005

Manchester plans to trump London as top city, says Tony Tysome

The creation of a 25,000-student megacampus, among the biggest in Europe, is at the heart of plans to turn Manchester Metropolitan University from a sleeping giant into a higher education superpower, the institution's new vice-chancellor revealed this week.

John Brooks, who took over as vice-chancellor from Dame Sandra Burslem ten weeks ago, told The Times Higher it was time that MMU, which is already one of the country's biggest universities, flexed its muscles.

The plans include closing four sites to help fund a £200 million capital programme that will create one of Europe's largest campuses at the university's main All Saints base in Manchester.

The reorganisation, which will take place over the next five to seven years, will see the university grow and improve the quality of its postgraduate programmes.

MMU's plans echo moves by neighbouring Manchester University, which is investing £750 million in buildings and staff as part of a strategy to raise its international standing.

Between them, the two institutions have nearly 70,000 students and some 12,000 staff, and MMU managers hope that this combined weight will prove mutually advantageous in challenging London institutions for the best researchers and teaching staff and students.

Professor Brooks said that, far from fearing competition from Manchester, he wanted it to be "enormously successful".

He said: "That would provide us with a space to expand into, creating a continuum of opportunity for students and staff in a way that I do not think any other city in the country will be able to compete with. We are going to be the learning city in the UK.

"London clearly has huge resources and massive assets," he added, "but there is a coherence and compactness in Manchester. And we have other advantages, such as the cost of living and huge investment in the city as a knowledge capital."

John Hyatt, director of MMU's Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design, said: "MMU has always been a sleeping giant. It is a very big university that, until now, has punched below its weight.

"Now that this university is more clearly defining itself, the position of higher education in Manchester will improve."

Angela Peers, principal lecturer in clothing design technology at the university, added: "I would say 'others beware', because the combination of us and Manchester University is going to be formidable."

MMU has more than 34,000 students - almost as many as Manchester University. Of these, 10,000 are on postgraduate programmes, making it the biggest provider of postgraduate courses in the North West.

But Professor Brooks said he wanted to expand this area and to build on its vulnerable but promising applied research base.

He said: "For me, the issue is not so much about having the biggest postgraduate provision so much as boosting quality and reputation."

Professor Brooks said there would be no compulsory redundancies if the university went ahead with its plan to close its Alsager, Aytoun Street, Hollings and Elizabeth Gaskell campuses.

But academic union leaders at MMU warned that the scheme would cause widespread disruption and chaos in the short term, unless managed with the utmost care.

Lecturers' union Natfhe representative Bob Askew said: "There are clear consequences for centralising everything. It could create havoc in terms of transport and facilities."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

HOW THE GIANTS COMPARE: MANCHESTER V LONDON

Total research income per head of population (absolute figures)

London £83 (£600m)

Manchester £83 (£200m)

Total number of students

London One per 20 people (358,855)

Manchester One per 34 people (69,018)

Total number of undergraduates

London One per 28 people (249,450)

Manchester One per 48 people (49,683)

Total number of postgraduates

London One per 65 people (109,405)

Manchester One per 124 people (19,335)

Total number of academic staff

London One per 295 people (24,380)

Manchester One per 192 people (12,457)

Estimated economic worth per head of higher education to the city

London £1,111 (£8.0bn)

Manchester £687 (£1.65bn)

NB Comparisons are between Manchester University and Manchester Metropolitan University combined and all higher education institutions in Greater London. The per head of population figures are based on a London population of 7.2 million and a Manchester population of 2.4 million.

Source: London Higher, Manchester University and MMU

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