University challenged

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The announcement that the Government plans to make around a dozen institutions into universities is a controversial one. In a time when attracting students is becoming increasingly tough, it will serve to pull in higher achieving students who may have had prejudices that pushed them away. Telling granny about university is much more alluring than university college.

For institutions such as Newman University College in Birmingham, who were not classed as universities simply because their student numbers sat below the previously required 4,000, this seems like a fair proposal. Their quality is undisputed. It seems ironic that the elitists who complain about mass higher education are likely to also be the ones most opposed to these institutions gaining university status – despite present exclusion being based upon the small size of their student bodies.

But whilst supporting the underdog might seem like the right thing to do, there is another side to the argument when considering the other universities. The drastic increase in fees led to a nine per cent average fall in applications in 2012, meaning that even universities such as Liverpool, a member of the Russell Group, acquired significantly fewer freshers than desired. Caps on places for students below AAB standard at top universities have intensified the problem as these universities are unable to lower their entry standards simply to fill places.

The Visa row surrounding London Metropolitan University is another ongoing issue surrounding further education. The extent of the impact on the university itself has been catastrophic, but the impacts stretch far beyond LMU’s walls. The reputation of British higher education as a whole has been thoroughly pounded on a world-wide stage.

It is barmy to think the Government is not focused on dealing with present problems before shaking the system up even more. The transformation of many polytechnics to universities in 1992, whilst being widely regarded within the field as a success, received much criticism and created widespread debate. Surely, opening the system up to further negativity from those who are already tearing it apart is exactly what the Government needs to not do.

A further issue with the granting of university status focuses on only one of the institutions involved, but perhaps holds the most gravitas. The College of Law in Liverpool, a for-profit private institution, is amongst those to become a university, and the idea of public money for student loans going into private hands is something that is extremely hard to justify. Although perhaps one relatively small for-profit institution could slip through the net, the granting of university status being imminent for another suggests this is not just an anomaly, and the issue could become increasingly prevalent in the future.

I do not contest that granting university status would benefit the universities themselves- and Bath only serves to highlight this. However I would testify supporting already existing universities should be the main priority of the Government for now. Spreading their resources and time too far will be of little benefit to anyone and thus only when the current system is more stable should further changes be looked at.



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