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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 12:33 GMT
MPs head off to university
Parliament, Alistair Burt, Bristol University
Alistair Burt is the first MP on the block
Members of parliament are to be sent back to university in a scheme to make them more aware of the trials and tribulations of running an academic institution.

MPs and peers who take up a fellowship as part of a pilot scheme will spend time in four institutions to get an idea of the range of issues faced by today's universities.

The universities involved - Royal Holloway, Bristol, Kingston and Imperial College - reflect the different kinds of institutions in the sector as a whole.

Bristol is supposed to represent "large civic" universities, Imperial internationally famous research institutions, Royal Holloway smaller research-led centres and Kingston the former polytechnics that converted in 1992 and concentrate largely on teaching.

The pilot programme will be managed by the Industry and Parliament Trust in association with Universities UK, which represents the executive heads of UK universities, as well as the host universities.

'Unrivalled opportunity'

The Shadow Higher Education Minister, Alistair Burt, will be the first MP to take part in the initiative.

He will spend five days at each institution, looking at issues such as planning, recruitment, staff management and research.

The fellowships would offer an unrivalled opportunity for MPs to understand a sector in depth, said Mr Burt.

"The challenges facing universities, from their educational and social obligations to world-wide competition, are many and varied and I will be a far better informed MP and shadow minister through the process," he added.

Reality check

The scheme was the idea of Professor Drummond Bone, principal of Royal Holloway, who introduced it to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine on Wednesday.


Universities are substantial businesses in their own right

Lord Irvine
Professor Bone said the scheme would help MPs "understand the realities of the modern university business".

The Lord Chancellor said it was essential for parliament to understand the way modern universities were run.

"This new link with the trust recognises that universities are substantial businesses in their own right, some routinely turning over in excess of 200 million per annum," Lord Irvine said.

"Their output, not only in terms of students, but increasingly in terms of their direct research output, is vital to a modern economy," he said.

See also:

08 Feb 01 | Education
MPs back bigger student 'bounty'
07 Jun 01 | Education
Bite-size approach to luring students
02 Nov 01 | Education
System failures cost Cambridge 9m
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