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Don’t mourn the universities that go bust

Andreas Whittam Smith

The Independent

26 June 2013

The leading opinion columnist Andreas Whittam Smith has based his column in The Independent on the findings of PA Consulting Group’s survey of higher education leaders. His opinion piece looks at the radical restructuring of higher education that is now underway and highlights the key finding from the survey: that universities are having to start thinking and behaving like commercial organisations.

Andreas highlights PA’s finding that university leaders no longer expect that Government or official sector bodies will be central to their future success. Rather, they must concentrate on winning the battle for fee-paying students who, according to PA’s report, have become customers able to “pick and choose the offers that best suit their needs, circumstances and ambitions”.

As a consequence of funding changes, institutions are narrowing the range of courses they offer. Andreas cites anecdotal evidence from PA’s report of widespread closures and mergers of academic departments across the sector, and the survey’s finding that most university leaders expect to see substantial restructuring and rationalisation among current institutions.

The article foresees an English university sector dominated by a super league of institutions, with an increasingly differentiated and plural system emerging alongside it. Andreas concludes that, for niche student markets, each with different needs and conditions for competitive success, it may not be a bad outcome.

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