In a move seen as the biggest expansion of the universities system, ten mostly specialist colleges will be allowed to call themselves universities after the recommendation of Universities Minister David Willets. Among the soon-to-be universities number the Royal Agricultural College (pictured above) and several teacher training institutions. The award of full university status has been made possible by a redefinition of certain minimum criteria such as the reduction of the number of full-time students from previously 4,000 to now 1,000. The last major expansion in the universities system came with polytechnics being awarded university status two decades ago.
David Willets said of these changes: “It is right to remove the barriers preventing high quality education providers like these calling themselves universities because of their size.” He also added that he was “delighted that they have taken up the opportunity offered by our reforms. This will lead to the biggest creation of universities since 1992 and will enable more people to realize their aspiration of going to a university.”
The Principal of Newman University College stated that “the university college title did create confusion outside the sector. The clarification provided by obtaining full university status is particularly important in light of the recent marketization of higher education and will prove invaluable as we look to strengthen our international links.”
At least two private colleges, one of them a for-profit institution, are also set to acquire university status. According to the government the changes will promote diversity and improve standards as well as student choice in the university sector. Critics fear that profit-oriented companies will harm the university sector, with public money – in the form of tuition fees backed by student loans – being channeled into the private sector and the pockets of share holders. Owned by a venture capital firm, the College of Law announced that it had been “granted full university title” thus becoming England’s first for-profit university. England’s first degree-awarding for-profit college, BPP University College, whose CEO was paid £738,000 in 2009 – 2010, has not yet followed suit. Regent’s College in London, another private institution to be awarded university status soon, is non-profit.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University College Union (UCU), commented to the BBC on the recent developments as follows: “UCU has real concerns about how the interests of students and the academic excellence for which the UK is renowned will be protected when experience in other sectors and from America shows that profits and education do not mix.”
Timur Cetin – Deputy News Editor