Private schools plan to set up university
A new college would put the emphasis on teaching, not research,
From The Sunday Times
February 7, 2010
A GROUP of leading independent schools are studying plans to set up an elite private university for families frustrated by the quality of education at mainstream institutions.
The university would be modelled on American liberal arts colleges, which concentrate on providing high-quality teaching for undergraduates rather than research. Fees would be at least £10,000 a year.
The plan is being considered by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) of independent schools and has been drawn up by Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of Buckingham, the only private university in the country.
The backers believe complaints about impersonal teaching and oversized classes at many traditional universities mean there will be strong demand for higher education at the standard provided by independent secondary schools.
// It may also attract pupils worried about government pressure on top universities to discriminate in favour of state school-educated pupils.
Bernard Trafford, headmaster of the Royal grammar school, Newcastle, and former chairman of the HMC, said: “I don’t think you’ll find many parents who are happy that at age 18 their children go to university and get four hours’ teaching a week.
“When they paid school fees they got a lot more. I can see an awful lot of independent school pupils would see this as an attractive alternative. It would be all about dependable quality and high accountability to the people paying the fees.”
David Willetts, the shadow universities secretary, said he would welcome the setting up of the institution if the Tories came to power.
“A more diverse university sector, with a range of organisations delivering higher education, is no bad thing,” said Willetts. “As long as they reach the required standard, it would be the most blinkered ideology to stand in the way just because they were privately run.”
The plan is at an early stage but its proponents have made approaches to at least two philanthropists about funding the set-up costs. Kevin Riley, headmaster of Harrow International School in Bangkok, an offshoot of the London public school, said tycoons in Thailand might also back it.
HMC schools, whose 243 members include Eton, Winchester and St Paul’s, would provide governors and help to design the curriculum.
Kealey has made inquiries about siting the university at Wye college, a disused agricultural teaching institution in Kent which is now owned by Imperial College London.
The HMC has held initial discussions and will study Kealey’s plan in more detail in the next few weeks. The provisional idea is for the university to be named after Edward Thring, a 19th-century educationist who founded the HMC and was headmaster of Uppingham school in Rutland. It would offer arts, science and medical degrees to about 2,000 British and overseas students.
James Tooley, professor of education at Newcastle University, who was involved in early discussions and is expected to advise on the development, said: “The idea is that the independent sector should not be dependent on the whims of government dictating who is and is not let into university.”
Initially the university would cater for a small number of students on the Buckingham campus before becoming a separate institution and applying for the royal charter it would need to award its own degrees. Kealey estimates that at least £25m would be needed to launch the project.
The idea of opening a private university is likely to provoke charges of elitism and of private school pupils trying to remain separate from mainstream education.
Kealey pointed out, however, that tuition fees in mainstream universities are likely to rise sharply. He added that within 20 years it could be possible for the university to have an endowment fund big enough to offer “needs-blind” admission to successful candidates, regardless of parental income.
Kealey argues in an article in The Sunday Times today that “state-funded universities have been so battered that they are reeling … step forward our private schools.”
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