University Vice-Chancellor hints Cambridge may go private

Connie Fisher -Deputy News Editor 8 March 2012

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz has announced that the University is considering abandoning state funding in order to become a private institution, The Sunday Times has reported.

This has come amid government talks which could lead to many leading universities opting out of government funding for teaching and student loans, enabling them to charge students over the £9,000 fees limit. Although universities may be able to continue to receive government research funding, privatisation would free them from government regulations, such as those made through the Office of Fair Access (OFFA).

A freedom of information release issued by the Higher Education Funding Council for England revealed that officials have been in consultation with the department of business in drawing up plans which would split the current single government grant given to universities into separate teaching and research funding. This would enable universities who want to become private to abandon the teaching grant but still receive government money for research. David Willetts, the universities minister, is believed to be open to the plans, provided they do not lead to reduced access for poorer students.

At a Westminster dinner, Sir Borysiewicz announced the University was considering becoming a private institution. An inside source told The Sunday Times: “He made it clear it was under serious consideration.” When asked “why don’t you stop messing around and go for it?” Ebdon is said to have cited the possible loss of research funding and replacing the state loans system as the two main obstacles.

The recent fee increase has replaced government cuts in teaching funding of around 80 per cent, reducing universities’ dependence on the state, which is leading many to question the benefits of remaining tied to government legislation. Privatisation would, however, face opposition from many academics and require universities to organise loan schemes with banks or build up large endowments.

Regarding the reports of Borysiewicz’s announcement, Steve Young, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for planning at Cambridge University, said: “Cambridge University has no plans to change its status in the foreseeable future. The VC was simply identifying some of the major issues which would need to be addressed should we ever contemplate going private.”

Connie Fisher -Deputy News Editor