Colleagues may have seen reports in the media over the past few days stating that I wish to free the College from government control. To actually do so would require a proposal, a debate and a decision within the College and at its Council that has not taken place. The media?s emphasis is inevitable but the headlines obscure the real debate I am calling for, which I hope to explain here, and have consistently stated in recent press interviews.
As I have said in Q&A sessions with staff at Hammersmith and Silwood in the last week, the College is facing very tough economic times. We are going to see significant cuts in UK public expenditure on science and higher education in the coming years, which will be felt for a long period hereafter. Imperial must argue forcefully against these cuts being applied equally across the sector and in particular to the detriment of the UK?s world class universities.
In addition there are three key issues we must confront.
We must have the freedom we need to set our own fees for all our courses. The value of an Imperial degree is not reflected in the income we receive. A serious debate about student fees is required and we have to raise its visibility. However, in any changes proposed, we must be absolutely confident that they would not deter prospective students who would flourish at the College. I have repeatedly stressed we are committed as a College to encouraging students from any background and to try and prevent financial circumstances acting as a barrier to entry to Imperial.
Secondly, we must seriously consider the opportunities open to us on the global stage. In the growing demography of highly qualified potential students from overseas, in particular China and India, there will be a huge demand for British universities to provide their high quality education to the world.
Thirdly, and touching on a matter flowing directly from Imperial?s founding mission: universities are the source of discoveries that, if commercialised, can be used to assist the UK economy in its recovery. When this country is crying out for a long-term industrial strategy, and our universities are placed so well to support this through the supply of people and ideas, we cannot stay silent and must position ourselves to influence thinking.
It is an often-overlooked fact that the UK is excellent at providing higher education. It is an industry worth £45 billion to the UK. The fact that we have four universities in the world top 10 underlines Britain?s standing. To harm these ?brand leaders? would be to hurt the whole sector.
The UK?s leading universities should be properly supported and nurtured; if they can?t be, we should debate whether they should be set free. But doing nothing would imperil a unique culture and an international asset. My responsibility is to lead the College through this period of economic difficulty and to build a platform for its future success, and in doing so I believe we have much to offer the UK.
As ever I warmly welcome your comments direct to me at [email protected].