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Close half of Britain’s ‘messy, muddled’ universities because we’ve got too many, says top academic


Half of British universities should be closed and others merged in sweeping reforms to the ‘messy, muddled’ higher education system, a leading academic has said.

Sir Roderick Floud, former president of Universities UK – which represents 121 of the nation’s universities – said that there were too many universities and that they were not focusing enough on research and education.

He said that this created a ‘messy, muddled non-system’ that was ineffective and in need of significant change.

The former vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, which was formed by the merger of two of the capital’s institutions, said that major cities like London, Leeds and Oxford did not need to have more than one university and said they should either close or merge.

Writing in the Times Higher Education magazine he said: ‘In London, the situation is even more bizarre, with some 40 universities within the M25 and more arriving by the day.’

He said that in the current system universities in the same city were left ‘glowering at each other and competing to attract the attentions of businesses and local authorities.’

There was also a suggestion that universities such as Oxford and Cambridge should stop recruiting undergraduate students and focus instead on postgraduate study and research.

This plan would affect more than 6,000 undergraduate students a year who are enrolled at the elite institutions.

Sir Roderick also suggested that universities should be allowed to increase the current £9,000 cap on tuition fees for undergraduate students.

He said that without an increase institutions that are supposed to be independent would remain dependent on public money and fees from international students – who pay more than those based in Britain.

The argument to raise fees has also been put forward by current Universities UK president and Surrey University vice-chancellor Sir Christopher Snowden who said that they should be raised in line with inflation.

In an interview he said that fees ‘can’t remain frozen forever’ and that in real terms, by 2016, on current inflation rates the maximum fee will be worth about £8,250.

Sir Roderick’s comments come just before he delivered a lecture at Gresham College, London, where he has been provost for the past six years.

They are at odds with the view of universities minister David Willets, who has indicated that he intends to expand on the number of higher education institutes – there are currently more than 150 – by building campuses in areas where there are none.

In addition to teaching and research, many of universities host conferences, organise catering services, offer career advice – they even invest in the stock market.


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