Number of UK Universities to Increase

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The number of official universities in the UK is set to soar in the next year, after the government announced new plans for more relaxed regulations for institutions to gain the prestigious title. They are proposing that the number of full-time students needed for the institution to qualify will be cut from 4,000 to just 1,000. This could lead to more than a dozen small Higher Education colleges in London and throughout the UK winning full university status, in what would be the biggest expansion of universities for twenty years.

The Benefits of a Name

The proposals are all part of the wider scheme to create a more competitive and diverse Higher Education system in England, and the colleges awarded university status will enjoy a number of benefits. The association of the name alone will allow the colleges a better reputation, as they will be connected, in name at least, with the top universities in the UK. Furthermore, they will also be able to gain from the financial benefits that universities are eligible for.

Prof Peter Lutzeier, principal of Newman University College, Birmingham, has backed the proposals, explaining:

"We are currently prevented from using the universally-understood term of ‘university' due to size alone. This creates a real perception challenge that means smaller higher education institutions have to spend additional time and resources educating students and employers about the nature and quality of their institution, as well as finding it more difficult to develop international links due to a perceived ‘lack' of full university status."

Traditionalist Misgivings

However, there are a number of figures against the proposals, arguing that a further increase in the number of universities will devalue the term and the Higher Education system as a whole, as well as making it harder for employees to differentiate between institutions.

Furthermore, Prof Alan Smithers, a director at Buckingham University, is also worried by the subjects taught at the colleges in question, with many of them specialising in one single area, such as media, the arts, education or agriculture:

"An important criteria for me is whether the spread of the courses offered is what you would expect from a university. It is an essential part of the university experience to learn one subject but interact with a wide variety of students specialising in a number of different fields."

Whether the reforms actually go through or not, they are likely to face equal opposition and support whatever the result.  

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