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‘Long-term view needed for regional universities’

 Image: Narviking1 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

New universities in rural areas should be recognised as distinct, suggests paper on European systems

Governments planning to set up universities in rural areas should take a “long-term view” on the operations of the new institutions, a paper has recommended.

Across Europe, various governments have tried to extend their country’s higher education systems beyond long-standing universities in large cities and towns, by setting up new universities, often in rural areas.

According to the paper published in December by the University of Oxford’s Centre for Global Higher Education, governments setting up new rural universities should “take a long-term view of the results [and] not see them as only providing them with responses to immediate needs”.

Findings from case studies

Michael Shattock of University College London and Aniko Horvath of the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam looked at higher education systems in Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Portugal and the UK. They found that new regional universities were often the product of political opportunism or local pressures, and that “almost immediately” after their creation, the new universities or their regions have lobbied for parity of standing and resources with universities of much longer pedigree and greater reputation.

“No institution is satisfied with being a ‘teaching university’ or a strictly ‘regional’ university. The results too often are distracting political campaigns, a distortion of mission and a waste of scarce resources,” the researchers say.

If new regional universities are successful, their impact can be “profound”, according to Shattock and Horvath. To help ensure this, they say governments should continuously monitor and review such universities from the outset.

Distinct role recommended

New regional universities should not be absorbed into the management of an existing higher education scene; instead, they should be recognised as a “distinct part of a diversified system”, say Shattock and Horvath.

They suggest that all new universities should be expected to undertake research from the outset, but that this could be concentrated in the early days on one or two subjects reflecting regional characteristics or strengths.