Risk-takers show the way

January 19, 1996

Post-compulsory education from soup to nuts: not a new idea (what is?) but one which De Montfort University has set about realising with uncommon gusto (page 6). The move, pursued stealthily through franchises and other links short of merger during the 1980s by, for example, Salford and Leeds universities, is now accelerating and mergers are becoming easier, helped by colleges' independent status and driven by funding pressures.

The ability to develop these schemes - whether they involve other higher or further education institutions - owes much, as Kenneth Barker, vice chancellor and chief executive of De Montfort, readily acknowledges, to management structures which allow quick decisions. It also helps when institutions have among their governors bigwigs who regard risk-taking as normal - such as Howard Davies, lately director general of the CBI and now deputy governor of the Bank of England. Derby will doubtless benefit similarly from having Sir Christopher Ball as chancellor.

There would no doubt be much schadenfreude if De Montfort and others boldness came to grief. But that is not the point. What is interesting is the pace at which another, more comprehensive model for universities is now emerging, a model with no dividing line between further and higher education which can accommodate a range of work and styles of learning quite new to any previous notion of what a university should be. It is a welcome addition to the diversity of opportunities open to people after the compulsory education years.

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