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Currently institutes are reacting to the hike in fees, the change in policy and the cuts towards funding. The most substantial and controversial step that Lancaster has taken in response is to hold discussions over the feasibility and benefits of a collaboration with Liverpool University.
These discussions have been centred on the Green Paper, released in mid-September. The fact that the University is considering future threats and dangers that may arise is only a good thing, however, the paper itself fundamentally misses the information that those reading and discussing it need to see. In many ways the paper can be seen as a beginning. Unfortunately, there is no middle or end.
The case for Liverpool as a partner has not convinced many yet; both the criteria for them as a partner and the benefits of them as a partner have come under scrutiny. For example, does a collaborator have to be so local and could other universities prove more beneficial?
The biggest gap in the discussion paper is the implications on our University though. Transparency on the approach that would be taken is crucial when considering such important strategic development. One suggestion that has been made from within the University is that a bottom-up method be taken. This would make sense on some levels; individual cases where research strength of a department could inevitably be enhanced by working more closely with Liverpool can be seen as a benefit.
Additionally, for some postgraduate research students this sort of collaboration could open the door to a new set of more accessible peers and industry contacts. On the contrary though, when research becomes more integrated with another institution teaching is affected. This would be of detriment to the core of Lancaster and the majority of students here; the quality of research-based teaching has been critical in propelling the University up the league tables over the last decade.
The University needs to also be wary of the fact other Universities are having the same discussions. If a lot partners begin to appear in some sort of arms race in the sector that would outweigh any partnership we were involved, in Lancaster could end up in exactly the same position as now. Simultaneously, if we do nothing then we could be in a worse position in two years’ time.
As you can tell by the many different considerations of this comment piece, this is not a simple problem with a simple solution. The benefits can be seen, but currently there is not the evidence to suggest they greatly outweigh the negatives. This is exactly what has to be considered and discussed moving forward.
The implications for the quality of academic and total student experience here at Lancaster must be positive. The only thing known at this moment in time is that Professor Mark Smith must provide public and clear leadership on the issue as the incoming Vice-Chancellor; it is he who will be leading the University for the next five to ten years; and that starts with this issue.