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So what is Lancaster looking to gain from closer collaboration with Liverpool? Leave aside for a moment the sordid issue of financial considerations the University has summarily dismissed and think about the institutions’ relative positions in the league tables. In any table you can put your hand on, in student satisfaction, in graduate employment, Lancaster outranks Liverpool significantly. We might be forgiven for wondering if Liverpool has more to gain in terms of raising prestige.
It was announced in February this year that the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham are to enter a partnership. Although this, like the Lancaster-Liverpool collaboration, is not a merger, the universities will share academic staff and work together to expand markets abroad. Nottingham has links with Asia whilst Birmingham is closer to North America, giving each institution the opportunity to take advantage of the other’s partnerships.
International students are big business with universities these days – and not just international students but international partnerships as well. Both Lancaster and Liverpool have strong links with universities in China. Recent changes to Chinese law have made it easier for foreign universities to forge links with Chinese institutions and it may be that they are both looking to develop further their presence there.
Sordid as financial considerations may be, we cannot ignore them in a discussion of potential gain. Although senior staff denied the Birmingham-Nottingham partnership was a cost-cutting exercise, it came hard on the heels of cuts to both universities’ budgets. The Government would like universities at the very least to share administrative services like Warwick and its five cohorts, and the Government holds the purse strings.
An online poll carried out by The Guardian in response to the partnership announcement showed that 78.7% of respondents felt that it has the potential to be replicated across the country. Like Lancaster and Liverpool, Birmingham and Nottingham already work together on research and teaching collaborations. It remains to be seen whether other institutions will follow in their footsteps.