Half of universities should be closed as part of sweeping reforms to Britain’s “messy, muddled” higher education system, according to a leading academic.
Sir Roderick Floud, the former president of Universities UK, said Britain had “too many universities” and institutions in cities such as London, Leeds, Oxford and Sheffield should be closed or merged.
The existing system of higher education was “unnecessary and inefficient” because large numbers of universities are “trying to do too many things at once”, he said.
Sir Roderick also suggested that elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge should focus on research and stop recruiting undergraduates altogether – affecting well over 6,000 students a year who are currently enrolled at the two ancient institutions.
The comments were made before a valedictory lecture today to Gresham College, London, where he has been provost for the last six years.
Britain has more than 150 universities, higher education colleges and specialist conservatoires.
David Willetts, the Universities Minister, has actually signalled an expansion in numbers by saying he wants to create dozens of new campuses in higher education “cold spots” over the coming years.
The Coalition has also granted a number of small private colleges official university status and pledged to allow more institutions to use the prestigious title.
But critics have claimed that too many school-leavers are being pushed into taking degree courses when alternative routes such as on-the-job training would be more appropriate.
Writing in Times Higher Education magazine, Sir Roderick said Britain had created a “messy, muddled non-system of higher education”.
“I believe that we have too many universities, that they are trying to do too many different things, and that the way we fund their research is fundamentally flawed,” he said.
“We don’t need two or more universities in each of our major cities, glowering at each other and competing to attract the attentions of businesses and local authorities.
“Why does Leeds or Sheffield or Oxford, for example, need two vice-chancellors, registrars or groups of governors?
“In London, the situation is even more bizarre, with some 40 universities within the M25 and more arriving by the day. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has remained supine in the face of evidence that all this is unnecessary and inefficient.”
Sir Roderick, the former vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, criticised the fact that universities now attempt to “do too many things at once”.
This included research, organising conferences, catering, offering careers advice, investing in the stock market, maintaining historic buildings, financing start-up companies, developing science parks, promoting sport and even running bus services.
He insisted there was a “strong argument for specialisation”, insisting that some universities “could concentrate entirely on postgraduate education”.
Sir Roderick said top universities needed to make “better use of the best researchers who are already, in many places, concentrating on master’s and PhD students and leaving undergraduate teaching to junior staff”.
The comments will be seen as reference to Oxford and Cambridge which already rely on large numbers of PhD students to lead seminars.
via – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10911839/Close-half-of-Britains-universities-leading-academic-says.html