What does tertiary education do for London? Not a lot, says one report. In another of our series of regional focuses, THES reporters look for a sense of community within the M25 area.
"WE have reached a new stability," says Andrew Rutherford, vice chancellor of the University of London. "There are still tensions and of course there will be problems but the university is now much more at ease with itself."
New statutes, introduced in 1994, halted a separatist revolt by a number of larger colleges threatening to seek university status and degree-awarding powers. In the event they were given greater financial independence and a raft of other concessions clarifying a federal relationship between the largely autonomous colleges and the central university body.
This period of stability is welcomed by Graham Zellick, principal of Queen Mary and Westfield College, who will succeed Professor Rutherford as vice chancellor in September. Three years ago he was "profoundly disappointed" that the then vice chancellor, Sir Stewart Sutherland, had objected to full university status for the colleges, saying: "I simply cannot be convinced that the University of London has a long-term future".
But, while Professor Zellick, who was one of the architects of the constitutional reforms, agrees with the equilibrium theory, he hints at future problems. "I am quite certain that, while nothing lasts for ever, the new constitution will see us through the next few years. That is not to say that every aspect of governance is perfect, far from it."
He identifies funding pressures as the greatest threat to the colleges in the foreseeable future. But while their need to economise will lead to greater cohesion and collaboration, with the university playing a key role as a provider of cost-effective services - a scenario suggested by Professor Zellick - it could also lead to colleges tightening spending on central university services.
The impressive Senate House library provides an example. Subscriptions by the colleges fell by 14 per cent between 1994 and 1995 and between 1995 and 1996, and are set to fall again in the current academic year. The future of the library, which is greatly valued by the colleges, is uncertain and a new funding arrangement is required.