Try not to compete

November 20, 1998

The capacity of "knowledge businesses" such as corporate universities to compete with traditional universities is a consequence of, not an argument for, the growth of market-led and vocational higher education ("Facing up to market forces", THES, November 13).

Since there is nothing new in commercial organisations making their own training arrangements, the adoption of the label "corporate university" reflects the enormous status and prestige of the idea of a university, rather than being a threat to that idea. Such private sector training almost inevitably suffers from the pressures of commercial imperatives. Universities, as publicly funded and "disinterested" institutions, derive their status and prestige from their freedom from commercial imperatives.

It therefore follows that seeking to compete with the corporate universities would be misguided: it would ratchet up a competition that traditional universities would probably lose while further eroding the distinctive basis on which such universities lay claim to utility.

Christopher Grey. Lecturer in organisational analysis. Leeds University business school

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