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Rector on Privatisation of Higher Education

Jun 01 2009 19:44
Kirsty Patterson
Imperial Rector, Sir Roy Anderson, is in favour of privatising top British Universities in order to escape financial mismanagement by a government with dubious priorities.
Not one to be outdone by his predecessor

Rector of Imperial College, Sir Roy Anderson, until recently overshadowed by the controversial policy opinions of his predecessor Sir Richard Sykes, is beginning to show his colours in the Higher Education debate. Speaking today to the London Evening Standard, Anderson has revealed his opinion of the need to privatise the top five Universities to release them from the threat of changing government funding priorities and the restrictive fee cap.

Speaking to the Standard, Anderson said, ?If you take the top five universities, they have enormous potential to earn income for Britain. How best to do that? My own view would be to privatise them. You don't want to be subject to the mores of government funding or changing educational structures.?

Anderson has singled out Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial alongside the London School of Economics and University College London as institutions in need of privatisation. Following from his earlier comments on tution fees, Anderson sees the tution fee cap as stifling and has joined other vice-chancellors in calling for the cap to be raised to £6,500. Privatisation would allow Imperial to charge unlimited fees, realising the true market for education.

The move would see any privatised British Universities operating in a similar way to top American institutions, Princeton, Harvard and Yale. Anderson is confident that, even with unlimited fees, ?we would have the scholarship endowment to continue to take people from all walks of life.? In his opinion Higher Eduction is "a product that Britain does superbly" while the government spends too much time and effort supporting "dying industries such as car manufacturing". This was an astute comment, on the same day that General Motors, previously the world's second largest car manufacturer, has filed for bankrupty with an offer of $30 Billion dollars from the White House.

Live! thinks it is strange timing for Roy to call for the top five institutions to become privatised seeing as there is some doubt as to whether Imperial is actually one of these.

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Discussion about “Rector on Privatisation of Higher Education”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Jun 01 2009 19:55


Education is not a product, a lifestyle choice, or part of an aspirational marketing campaign. Students are not consumers. Knowledge is supposed to help all, not a select few.

The enlightenment and every advance made since the Renaissance is not something that should be bought or sold in a tawdry prostitution to the highest bidder.

F**k right off.

Jun 01 2009 20:13

What is education?

3. @1   
Jun 01 2009 20:31

I can only assume that you have never set foot in a university.

Universities need money. Money to fund research. Research that will attract renowned academics. Academics that will among other things teach to students.

There are, and there will always be certain types of institutions that will be less focused on research, and more focused on delivering cheap education to the masses.

Jun 01 2009 22:46

Labour MP Frank Field wrote a letter to the FT about a month ago. Take a look at what he says:

5. ex-IC   
Jun 02 2009 09:09

Having studies both at Imperial (2:1 MEng) and at an ex-poly (1st BA), my view of Imperial has been seriously adjusted at the other university. Yes, Imperial attracts the better students, has a better library and more brilliant researchers. It also has mostly p***-poor teaching and student support, and most people get a degree one band lower than they would at any other uni (most of my fellow graduates at the time remarked they would have preferred a 1st from a second tier uni to a 2:1 from IC).

Imperial's reputation as a place of education is not based on the quality of the teaching, but on the quality of its student intake. Hand the students a couple of textbooks and previous exam papers, and you'd watch them do just as well (or as poorly) as they do now.

So, the end result? Networking opportunities, a degree certificate with a high value brand and a nice location, versus poor teaching quality and support, and a likely lower degree classification. In a free market, I would not pay more for an Imperial degree. It has some brand value, but the product delivered is not, in the end, good value for more money.

6. Hmm.   
Jun 02 2009 09:21

"If you take the top five universities, they have enormous potential to earn income for Britain."

But surely they can already charge what they like to students from outside of Britain, what he proposes is 'making money' for private institutions FROM the people of Britain getting into even more debt- just what we need right now!

Jun 02 2009 09:31

If the government stopped directing money to the polys and car manufactures at the behest of their Trades Union paymasters then the College would not be in this lose/lose situation. If they don't charge more the quantity and quality of undergraduate teaching will suffer and if they do there are serious questions about how students from average backgrounds can afford study here.

Jun 02 2009 15:42

From the BBC.

'Sir Roy said it was "madness" that elite universities faced cuts as government cash was increasingly placed in the hands of former polytechnics.

Some prestigious universities saw their share of funding cut, while some of the newest universities, along with many university colleges and specialist institutions, received increased funding.

"It is madness," said Sir Roy.

"The likely consequence is that in the longer term Britain will not continue to play in the top league.

"Some of them should not be universities, they should be vocational training centres." '

9. @5   
Jun 02 2009 16:27

well of course people at Imperial would get a degree that is one band lower that they would from any other uni.

People however who can take a 1st from Imperial should not really be in the same league with the ones that would take a 1st in an ex-Poly, should they?

10. @9   
Jun 03 2009 01:19

Well, I earnestly congratulate and respect the people who get a 1st at Imperial. They are exceptional, and in a league of their own. They are also the minority. (About 30%, right?) I am not sure equal opportunities employers are allowed to differentiate between degrees of the same classification and subject area from different universities though.

And if my 2:1 could have been a 1st at Leeds or Manchester or some other second tier uni (ex-polys are third tier in my book), then I would have rather had the 1st, thank you very much. Faced with a 60-70% probability of not getting a 1st at Imperial, and the knowledge / hindsight that teaching quality is mostly poor (with a handful of notable exceptions), it does not look like a sound investment, especially if it is significantly more expensive than other unis.

That said, I'm told the tutorial system in Oxbridge is genuinely helpful, supportive and high-quality, so without having first hand experience of it, I could imagine that they'd be able to offer the level of teaching and support I'd expect for the higher price that IC's rector is talking about. I'm pretty sure if privatisation of the top 5 unis did occur, the funding gap between Oxbridge and Imperial would widen hugely. It's a case of "be careful what you wish for". At the moment, Imperial gets to differentiate itself from most of the Russell Group. If fees were truly uncapped, I believe Imperial would not flourish / maintain its elite brand, but end up just one name among many Russel Group unis.

If unis were consumer brands, Imperial would move from the Harrods/Harvey Nichols sphere of top 5 down to the Debenhams/John Lewis of generic, solid, but unexceptional Russel Group (which is slightly ahead of the Marks & Sparks of most of the field, and the Aldi/Lidl of the ex-polys).

Jun 03 2009 01:44

I think that is a bit unfair on Marks & Spencer's ;)

On an unrelated note... how blatantly photoshopped is the image heading this article? I doubt Roy was stood anywhere near the lion and either the Queen's Tower or Skempton are the only background options. Not trees...!

12. @10   
Jun 05 2009 20:47

Sorry mate, but if 30% of the people at Imperial get a 1st, it really really really really doesn't mean that you have a 30% chance of getting one if you enter.

The world just does not work like that.

As for equal opportunities, academic league tables do not exist only for getting people into education.

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