British higher education must develop its own brand of "multiversity" rather than emulating the American system if it is to expand and widen participation, the Council for Industry and Higher Education has said.
A new model of regional collaboration between old and new universities, higher education colleges and further education colleges, would help meet government targets for expansion and social inclusion and the demands of today's students and business leaders, Richard Brown, chief executive of the CIHE, suggests in a new discussion paper.
But it would be a mistake to try to import well-known American regional models, such as those that operate in California and Wisconsin, or to create British versions of the American community colleges, Mr Brown argues.
These have proved less flexible and less successful at widening participation than is often realised, according to the paper , Cooperation and Collaboration: Some Reflections on the US and UK .
Instead, British institutions should work with regional organisations such as the regional development agencies and learning and skills councils to develop cross-sectoral strategic partnerships capable of raising the quality and breadth of provision.
Under a "multiversity" model, resources could be shared between institutions, and students would be able to access facilities and teaching at several institutions. Universities and colleges would work together to identify and deal with overlaps and gaps in the curriculum, and exploit market opportunities.
This could include, for instance, a common marketing strategy such as that developed by the Higher Education and Training Partnership between Middlesex University and its five neighbouring further education colleges. This approach has proved popular with local businesses and students.
The paper warns that if institutions fail to develop such partnerships, they may struggle to maintain standards, due to lack of funding, and risk losing students and sponsors from industry.