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Universities Inc?

For universities coping with change, working with business could be more useful than working like business, argues Malcolm McVicar.

English universities are operating in a new environment. Higher student fees, paid on an income-contingent, deferred basis and leading to high graduate debts, the extension of student support arrangements to private providers and the rise of English language degree programmes at high status providers in Europe all present new challenges. How should universities respond?

For the people running them, the first thing to do is to recognise that it really is a new environment and that they have to change their approach, even though things may not seem very different. The introduction of £9,000 fees led to a one-year dip in undergraduate recruitment in 2012 from which most recovered in 2013, significantly boosting their incomes. Sure, some universities are down on student recruitment two years in a row, but that is a local not a sectoral issue. The threatened impact of new, private sector providers has not yet materialised and the rise of university competitors in Europe has yet to have a major impact. So what’s the problem? It looks like business as usual.

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