Sterling Group trades on quality

August 13, 1999

The gloves came off in higher education this week after a group of United Kingdom universities advertising themselves as elite institutions revealed plans to target the domestic market.

The Sterling Group, representing 20 universities - many of which are Russell Group members - sparked a dust-up after announcing that it was thinking of promoting its traditional standards and quality message.

Donald Hagger, the group's administrator, said the group "wishes to demonstrate (in Southeast Asia) that the universities that are members maintain the old high standards for teaching and research".

The group was also "thinking seriously about doing things in Britain", he added, after its third lecture tour of Southeast Asia to promote quality engineering degrees, which are supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Mr Hagger stressed that the lecture tour of Singapore and Malaysia was not "a crude recruitment exercise" but aimed to establish the group's reputation.

In a calculated swipe at other institutions, he said: "They (the members of the Sterling Group) are anxious that they don't behave as if they are desperate sellers, which is what a number of other places have regrettably done."

His comments caused immediate concern, particularly among the post-1992 universities.

Geoff Copland, vice-chancellor of Westminster University and chairman of the Coalition of Modern Universities, said that it was fine if the Sterling Group was promoting UK higher education as a whole.

But speaking in his capacity as head of Westminster, he said: "If they are overtly, or even covertly, saying that only the universities in this group are maintaining standards then that is very divisive and I suspect not borne out by the Teaching Quality Assessment scores."

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