Specialist institutions to get university status

by Catherine Malpass

Small specialist colleges across the UK are now eligible to call themselves universities.

The announcement, made on Monday 11 June, came in response to the Higher Education White Paper from David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science. Higher education institutions will now have to facilitate 1,000 students, with 750 of those studying a degree to qualify for the title ‘university’.

The previous figures meant that universities had to accommodate for 4,000 students, with 3,000 of those studying a degree. This means that up to ten establishments could now take on the university title.

Mr Willetts commented on the changes, saying: ‘It is right to remove the red tape stopping good quality, smaller higher education providers calling themselves a university’.

Colleges now eligible for the title include Newman University College, Harper Adams University College and Norwich University College of the Arts. It is estimated that if colleges do decide to go ahead with the change, it could be in place by autumn.

In support for the eligibility reform, Professor Peter Lutzeier, the principal of Newman University College, said: ‘The change corrects an anomaly in the system and will help reduce confusion surrounding the nature of university colleges’. The reform aims to represent smaller institutions to their full capacity.

However, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Shabana Mahmood, has criticised the government reform agenda for higher education. She said that the changes ‘will do nothing to reduce the chaos and uncertainty that universities and students are facing’.

The National Union of Students (NUS) also expressed their disappointment at the changes. NUS president Liam Burns said: “Tuition fees triple from September, yet the government has decided to avoid protections for students when things go wrong, dodge real regulation of for-profit universities, and all but give up on improving teaching quality.

‘It also continues to refuse to guarantee the terms of student loans into the future, reserving for itself the right to make terms worse without parliamentary scrutiny.

‘This lamentable response from a government terrified by public or parliamentary scrutiny of its higher education reforms is an insult to students and their families’.

The reform has also confirmed plans that higher education will be subject to tighter student number controls in the future.

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