Scop revamp sharpens focus

September 22, 2006

Group representing higher education colleges relaunches with a focus on specialist institutions, writes Tony Tysome

The Standing Conference of Principals relaunched itself this week in a bid to show the world it is still alive and kicking after the defection of several prominent institutions that became universities.

Scop, the body that has represented higher education colleges for the past 28 years, will now be known as GuildHE. It will have a new mission to focus more on representing small specialist institutions.

The name was chosen to "emphasise the importance to our members of collective endeavour, mutual support and shared vision", said its chair Pamela Taylor, Newman College principal.

The move follows a year-long internal review prompted in part by the departure of several newly established universities from Scop's membership to join the vice-chancellors' umbrella body Universities UK.

Four out of 11 former higher education colleges that have gained a university title in the past year are staying with Scop, reducing its membership to 30.

Patricia Ambrose, GuildHE chief executive, said one of the key messages the revamped organisation wanted to send was that its membership was "evolving", opening new opportunities to diversity and extending its influence.

She said: "Part of the rationale for the rebranding was to show the world that this is still a going concern and that there is a future for the organisation, with some institutions that had the option to leave choosing to stay with us."

In the coming year, GuildHE plans to promote itself in a bid to attract new members and to negotiate with small groups of institutions to provide them with "targeted services".

Ms Ambrose said: "There is a number of smaller specialist institutions that are either not part of a representative body or that might be part of one but feel their interests are not being met."

In the medium to longer term, however, she hinted that GuildHE may seek to become a component part of UUK. She said: "We need a radical rethink about some overarching structure for higher education, of which GuildHE should be an important component. We may need a different kind of representative body in the future.

"Whatever happens, there is going to need to be an organisation that represents the interests of smaller specialist institutions."

Philip Robinson, vice-chancellor of Chichester University, said his institution chose to remain in Scop after gaining its university title because "it represents our values". He feared that "as one of the smallest universities in the country, our voice would be lost in UUK".

But Michael Wright, vice-chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University, which has switched to UUK, said: "I think the desirable long-term development is for there to be a single voice representing higher education institutions."

A spokesman for UUK said that incorporating GuildHE into UUK's membership was currently "not on our agenda".

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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