Why settle for Liverpool?

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Photo credit: Tom Patterson

Since last summer’s first report on the proposed collaboration between Lancaster University and the University of Liverpool we’ve had everything from vagueness to a lack of transparency with the previous Green paper, leading Lancaster University Students’ Union to question this venture.

With the release of a further paper in the New Year, the Joint Strategic Planning group fought back with a more comprehensive document, evidently looking to quell worries surrounding the persistent rumour of a full merger with Liverpool.

With this document we’ve now established that Lancaster and Liverpool are looking to the federal model for collaboration, a more dynamic relationship; dating rather than marriage. Plans also appear just as hesitant, with an obvious intention of working together, but wanting to ascertain limits first.

The three main aims of this paper appear to be quite achievable; however questions still arise over Lancaster’s status as a top ten university whereas Liverpool is not there yet. Will this union be a “Lady and the Tramp” style success or more of a “Romeo and Juliet” disaster?

The first plan is to create a “Lancaster Liverpool Research Board”, which would promote both universities’  research capabilities on a global scale. This would maximize the global profile of the Lancaster and Liverpool brands and increase the income of both institutions by strengthening funding from all major donors. This would attract industry to become heavily involved in research programmes.

This plan sounds very impressive, but will it lead to Lancaster limiting its research collaborations solely to Liverpool? Have LUSU’s worries concerning the quality of teaching been addressed? If staff are focused on these departmental research programmes, will students suffer?

The joint Graduate School proposed in this paper also raises questions. The plan itself talks of an “identifiable and branded home” for both universities, with training environments across both locations. Effectively, this could be labelled an expansion of the Graduate school, something that arguably will be a positive step. By expanding, Lancaster and Liverpool hope to become a “point of contact for business associations” and attract more international graduates; big business in higher education today.

However, although all expansion is positive, is Lancaster looking further enough? Global graduate organisations like Universitas 21; a union of universities worldwide, which encompasses U.K universities like Nottingham, Birmingham and Glasgow, alongside international players like Auckland University, New Zealand and Virginia University, U.S.A. would overshadow any other union. How can Lancaster and Liverpool compete? Should Lancaster be searching for larger international institutions to collaborate with, rather than a University on its doorstep?

The final plan for Lancaster is to integrate its international work with that of Liverpool, becoming a “leader in overseas operations.” A union in this field would see an integrated network of campuses with shared staff and I.T.  resources abroad, including joint on-line programmes for home and internet markets. This strategy would see the University of Liverpool support Lancaster in developing a campus in Guangzhou, China, whilst Lancaster University would support Liverpool in its work in India.

With such broad decisions, focusing on altering Lancaster’s profile, the repercussions of some plans will only truly be seen after they’ve been implemented; a risk Lancaster may not be prepared to take.

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