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England: what a difference a name makes

Small and subject specific colleges will in the future be able to call themselves universities.  This was confirmed by universities minister David Willetts on 11 June. So far, the title university has been reserved for institutions with at least 4 000 students, at least 3 000 of whom needed to study for a degree. The proposed reform would lower the threshold to an enrolment of 1 000, of whom 750 would have to be degree-seeking. According to the Guardian newspaper, Willetts said “it is right to remove the red tape stopping good quality, smaller higher education institutions calling themselves a university”.

The Financial Times reported that the roughly dozen potential candidates include Bishop Grosseteste University College in Lincoln (2 000 students), Norwich University College of the Arts (1 500) and the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester (1 000). Most of the ‘eligible’ institutions are members of GuildHE, the association of higher education colleges. GuidHE welcomed the announcement, as did Universities UK, the UK rectors’ conference: “The proposal to bring alternative providers into the student control system is a very sensible move…”.

Observers are divided as to whether this is a move aiming at less costly higher education provision or simply the result of sustained and finally successful lobbying by the colleges and their representative body, GuildHE. Some also hope that the title “university” will make these institutions more attractive for international students. What a difference a name makes!

The Guardian Financial Times