Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 14:59 UK

'Privatise' top UK universities

students at Imperial
Students currently pay tuition fees of 3,000 a year

The UK's top universities should be privatised to allow them to compete on the global stage, it is claimed.

Sir Roy Anderson, rector of Imperial College London, said up to five leading institutions should cut their ties to the government to avoid funding cuts.

Sir Roy said it was "madness" that elite universities faced cuts as government cash was increasingly placed in the hands of former polytechnics.

The government says university funding is 24% higher than 10 years ago.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Sir Roy said privatisation would allow top universities to take more foreign students and set their own tuition fee rates of up to £12,000.

"We are taxpayer funded and we have in the past tried to recruit 60% of our students from home and 40% from overseas," he told the paper.

In the longer term Britain will not continue to play in the top league
Sir Roy Anderson
Rector, Imperial College

"But if financial times became very tough we would change that because we would have to survive and compete internationally so we would go where the market was."

Sir Roy said England's leading research universities should not be subject to the "fads and fashions" of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce).

Earlier this year Hefce divided up nearly £8bn of funding between England's universities.

Some prestigious universities saw their share of funding cut, while some of the newest universities, along with many university colleges and specialist institutions, received increased funding.

"It is madness," said Sir Roy.

"The likely consequence is that in the longer term Britain will not continue to play in the top league.

"Some of them should not be universities, they should be vocational training centres."

STUDENT FEES (2009-10)
England: £3,225 p.a.
N. Ireland: £3,225 p.a.
Scotland: free to Scots, £1,775 p.a. to other UK
Wales: £1,285 p.a. to the Welsh, £3,225 to other UK
Students from elsewhere in the EU pay the same as those locally
Those from outside the EU pay whatever the university charges

Currently Buckingham University is the only private higher education institution in the UK.

Ministers are due to launch a review of tuition fees to consider whether universities should be able to charge more than the index-linked £3,000 a year (currently £3,225).

University vice-chancellors have already called for fees to rise to £6,500.

Recent world rankings saw four top UK universities - Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial and University College London - in the top 10.

A spokesman for England's Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills said: "Government funding for universities is 24% higher than 10 years ago and the budget for science and research has almost doubled to nearly £4bn as part of our ongoing commitment to higher education.

"It is difficult to believe that the top five universities could do without the £271m they receive on teaching and the £446m they receive for research from the government via the funding council.

"It is this financial commitment that is helping maintain our world class status."



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