Sunderland University: 'the government has underestimated us'

January 23, 2003

  • Undergraduates  10,650
  • Postgraduates  1,880
  • Students from low social classes  35%
  • Hefce teaching income  £29m
  • Hefce research income £1m
  • Income from Hefce  52%

"It is difficult to see how we can be a real university anymore," said Peter Fidler, vice-chancellor of Sunderland University.

The fact that the government wants to focus research funding on the elite minority was a massive blow to Sunderland, an institution lauded for striking the perfect balance between research and teaching. It has been the best English university at recruiting from low-participation neighbourhoods in the past four years, and was the highest average performer of all the UK's new universities in the last research assessment exercise.

"We probably characterise how you can be at the peak in widening participation while still supporting a strong academic quality and research agenda," Professor Fidler said. "And it is crucial to do both. It is fundamental to the nature of a university."

For Professor Fidler the argument is not just that you cannot maintain good-quality teaching without lecturers actively engaged in cutting-edge research. It is also that you cannot

drive up participation, and widen access for non-traditional students without offering them the "proper" university experience.

"The government has underestimated why we've moved from an elite system to a more inclusive system, and it is putting at risk the aspirational dimension of student inclusion." It was also, he said, risking the stagnation of higher education.

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