Bloomberg News

U.K. Universities Seen Suffering From Government Reform Plans

October 06, 2011

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Britain’s reputation as a center of excellence in higher education may be damaged by government proposals to reform the universities, according to the compilers of this year’s World University Rankings.

“The U.K. is blessed with some truly brilliant universities, more brilliant than the government understands, judging by its hastily concocted higher education reforms, with all the uncertainty they entail,” said Ann Mroz, the editor of the London-based Times Higher Education, in a report accompanying the list. THE published the list today with data from Thomson Reuters Corp.

There are 32 U.K. universities in the top 200, more than any other country apart from the U.S., which has 75. Seven U.K. institutions are in the top 50, with Oxford University, Cambridge University and Imperial College London in the top 10.

“We spend much less on our universities than many of our competitors,” yet “outperform almost all of them,” Mroz said. The U.K. spent 1.2 percent of its gross domestic product on tertiary education in 2008, compared with an average of 1.5 percent for countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to an OECD report on education published last month. Only Italy, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic spent less.

As part of austerity measures designed to cut the budget deficit, the U.K. government is withdrawing direct subsidies for humanities courses and allowing universities to increase tuition fees to as much as 9,000 pounds ($13,800) a year, or more than three times the current maximum, a move that met with widespread student protests last December.

Compete for Students

The government published a Higher Education White Paper in June, outlining proposals to encourage universities to compete for students by giving more information about teaching quality and allowing successful institutions to expand. The intention is to remove quotas that cap a university’s intake.

Phil Baty, who edited the global rankings, said he’s concerned about the likely effect of the proposed reforms on the strength and reputation of British universities. In a telephone interview, he questioned the consequences of much higher undergraduate tuition fees for “homegrown postgraduates and the next generation of researchers.”

In July, the government proposed higher pension contributions for public-sector workers, including an increase of 300 million pounds for teachers. It has also tightened visa requirements and abolished the post-study work visa for graduate students, starting next year.

“There’s an explosive mixture,” Baty said. “We’re one of the best in attracting international students and yet we’re putting restrictions on visas that could damage a great source of income and a great source of diversity on campus.” Other countries, particularly the U.S., are becoming “more aggressive and competitive” in attracting students from abroad, he said.

Germany and the Netherlands have 12 universities each in the THE top 200, followed by Canada with nine and Australia with seven.

--Editors: Alan Purkiss, Peter Branton

To contact the reporter on this story: Namitha Jagadeesh in London at njagadeesh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Colin Keatinge at ckeatinge@bloomberg.net


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