Red tape drives Smithers private

June 25, 2004

Buckingham University, Britain's only private university, is gearing up to recruit more high-profile academics after the capture of Alan Smithers from Liverpool.

Terence Kealey, the vice-chancellor, said its decision to invite the Quality Assurance Agency to audit the university last year had paid off.

The audit team produced a favourable report and he said more academics were now considering it as a place to work.

In this week's Times Higher , Professor Smithers writes that moving to Buckingham will allow a new type of education department to be created.

Professor Smithers says: "Working in the maintained sector of higher education has become an increasing constraint. Education is a practical subject; it is now for us to put this further into practice."

Dr Kealey revealed that Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools and now a visiting professor at Buckingham, was responsible for luring Professor Smithers to the university.

Some months ago Professor Smithers had expressed his unhappiness about his position at Liverpool to Professor Woodhead, who then told Dr Kealey. An agreement was quickly reached for Professor Smithers to transfer his well-regarded Centre for Education and Employment Research to Buckingham.

"It's a great coup for us and we are absolutely delighted," Dr Kealey said.

Buckingham receives no funding from the state for teaching, so only major donations from private foundations and individuals have made it possible to recruit staff such as Professors Woodhead and Smithers.

Professor Smithers is looking forward to the "freedom and flexibility" offered by Buckingham.

In The Times Higher he says: "[The Government] has taken to behaving as a monopoly customer bullying its suppliers rather in the manner of an aggressive supermarket.

"Its interference in admissions policies, its distortion of research through the research assessment exercises and the crushing bureaucracy of quality assurance are but three examples."

Dr Kealey claimed he was the only vice-chancellor prepared to fully engage in public debate on top-up fees. He revealed how earlier this year, after he publicly attacked Tim Yeo, the former shadow education spokesman, over his opposition to top-up fees he received a phone call from a fellow vice-chancellor who warned him not to cross the Tories because they would one day be in government.

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