The Guardian homeBy . Investors rather than students may really be the true beneficiaries from the creation of 10 new universities. The announcement this week of 10 new universities has been spun by David Willetts, the universities minister, as the "single biggest creation of universities since 1992". Yet these small and specialist institutions, including the venerable Royal Agricultural College and Norwich University College of the Arts, already held the power to award degrees, received public funding and were "university colleges". Willetts's claim that "more people will now realise their ambition of going to a university" is therefore overblown. Life continues much as before for students and staff.
The true significance of creating new universities lies elsewhere. They result from measures designed to create a level playing field for private operations delivering higher education. In June, the government lowered the number of full-time students needed to be a university from 4,000 to 1,000, which made these small institutions eligible. This change followed a recommendation by the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange which called for a US-style market in higher education in its 2010 report, Higher Education in the Age of Austerity. It argued that private operators should get the right to call themselves universities, award degrees, get easier access to taxpayer funding and even take over failing state-run universities. More...