Under the plans, unveiled by Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, colleges with 1k students will be able to apply for university status, as long as at least 750 are studying taught degree courses. In the past, in order to be eligible to apply, institutions needed to have 4K students with at least 3,000 of them taking a degree.
The move is intended to create a much more diverse higher education sector, in light of the tuition fees increase (which kicks in at the start of the next academic year) by allowing more students access to institutions with full university status. According to David Willets, Minister for Universities and Science, “These reforms will increase competition and flexibility, and deliver on our promise to put students at the heart of the system…It is right to remove the red tape stopping good quality, smaller Higher Education providers calling themselves a ‘University’.”
However some commentators are fearful the move could damage the reputation of UK higher education. Professor Michael Farthing, chairman of the
1994 Group which represents student focused research universities such as St Andrews, Goldsmiths and the University of Bath, said: “Not only would this let down institutions that work hard to develop the research and teaching traditionally associated with university status, it could damage the global reputation of UK higher education as a whole.”
Furthermore, Farthing states, “[the ‘University’ title] is a badge that indicates a particular type of academic community and it would be a mistake to lightly offer it in return only for admitting an arbitrarily determined volume of students.” Farthing is worried that creating more universities will water down the value of universities and university degrees.
In spite of this, ministers insist only specialist intuitions with a good track record will be awarded university status. Many of the institutions which will benefit from the change provide an excellent service, according to Andy Westwood, chief executive of
GuildHE, who told the Telegraph, "Smaller institutions have long offered greater agility, smaller classes, stronger graduate employment and better retention rates.”