Research universities should consider merging

Research universities should “consider merging”

According to a report of a speech by Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of Warwick:

The top 30 could merge, either with each other or with big American universities, and contemplate bringing in more private providers or collaborate together more formally. Foreign merger or takeover might solve chronic university underfunding, he said, and produce “interesting scientific synergies” if UK and US universities joined.

Although it looks a bit bald here there are, I think, some interesting thoughts underlying this about the way in which universities can collaborate successfully for mutual benefit. Although this is not just about mergers, the idea that currently highly successful institutions would merge for longer term sustainability (rather than as a result of some form of crisis) is a novel one.


The alternative could be the slow decline of institutions unable to produce enough research papers, clusters of top academics or scientific facilities to keep up with the world leaders. He also raised the possibility of private ownership of a few, which would increase diversity and relieve stretched higher education funding. Universities already face squeezed public and private funding and caps on student numbers because of the recession and Thrift argued that international competition would “intensify markedly” for the estimated 150 million students worldwide in 2010. Research-intensive institutions would be hit most severely by increased competition from other countries as they recovered from the recession, he said.

So, the situation is grim and this is one way out. But will Russell and 94 Group universities see things this way?

Impact of the Budget on higher education

Savings needed? No need to think about it, just cut the administration.

John Denham has written to HEFCE on the impact of the Budget.

This is a significant letter from the Secretary of State but it doesn’t quite say what the Guardian is reporting. The paper’s headline states: “Universities told to cut admin costs, not teaching or research”. This isn’t precisely the message but the sentiments are there:

Ministers have calmed fears that universities will be asked to axe thousands of academic jobs and make savings on teaching and research. Denham460x276
Letters from the universities secretary, John Denham, to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) confirm that savings should be made in administration costs, rather than the core university business of teaching and research.

“I am confident that we can find efficiency savings whilst protecting the quality of teaching and research,” he wrote.

Savings should come from programmes that “do not directly contribute to the frontline delivery of teaching and research”, he added.

The important point here is that, having determined that universities have to make significant savings it really isn’t the job of the Secretary of State to tell institutions how to prioritise their spending. Of course institutions will not seek to undermine quality of teaching and research. But the idea that there is this huge unnecessary raft of administration from which savings can easily be made, that this will have no effect on quality and also that that somehow administrators are dispensable is simplistic and thoroughly misguided.

So, universities will find their own ways to make the savings required and will, it is to be hoped, aim to do so in a measured and sensible way. But this kind of advice is not hugely helpful.

New Guardian 2010 UK University League Table

New Guardian 2010 UK University League Table

The Guardian’s latest table is now available and the top 30 overall rankings are:

1    (1)    Oxford
2    (2)    Cambridge
3    (5)    St Andrews
4    (4)    Warwick
5    (3)    London School of Economics
6    (7)    UCL
7    (9)    Edinburgh
8    (6)    Imperial College
9    (13)    Bath
10    (10)    Loughborough
11    (11)    York
12    (8)    SOAS
13    (14)    Exeter
14    (16)    Durham
15    (14)    Leicester
16    (12)    Lancaster
17    (20)    Glasgow
18    (33)    Sussex
19    (18)    Aston
19    (17)    Dundee
21    (26)    City
22    (52)    Heriot-Watt
22    (25)    Southampton
24    (30)    Birmingham
24    (21)    King’s College London
26    (19)    Nottingham
27    (22)    Surrey
28    (27)    Leeds
29    (31)    Bristol
30    (36)    Sheffield

Some slightly surprising results here perhaps – especially in the teens and 20s. Important to remember though that the Guardian does not use RAE results in its tables at all, preferring to focus on teaching related indicators.

What is not shown here is the highest placed post-92 university – Bournemouth makes it to 32nd place in this table. Remarkable.

Social Media in Admissions

According to the Chronicle: Social Media in Admissions: No Longer a Choice:

College-admissions offices overwhelmingly consider social media important for recruiting students, and more institutions are creating blogs and online profiles, new studies show. Thirty-three percent of admissions offices kept blogs in 2007, and 29 percent maintained social-networking profiles, according to a report released today by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, known as NACAC. The report, “Reaching the Wired Generation: How Social Media Is Changing College Admission” (available to NACAC members), is based on survey responses from 453 colleges in the spring of 2007.

All jolly interesting. Two points to note however: first, the survey data is two years old and things must have moved on since then; secondly, how do UK institutions measure up?