Higher education is one of London’s many draws, with 40 higher education institutions including five of the 24 prestigious Russell Group universities, and London universities performing particularly well in the recent Times Higher Education world rankings. However, there are several more universities in London than these HESA statistics show. This is due to the growing trend for universities outside the capital to open up London campuses.
For example, as well as offering courses on its home campus, Coventry University has, since 2010, offered students the possibility of studying for degrees at Coventry University London Campus – in the City of London. Cumbria, Glasgow Caledonian and Ulster universities all have London campuses, and the University of Liverpool has announced the opening of its London campus this autumn.
This relatively new development has clear benefits for universities – but the main one is the potential to attract international students. The strict quota system governing universities in England means they are forbidden to recruit more than a fixed number of UK or EU domiciled students. Those that want to expand can only do so by recruiting students with the best A-level grades or by recruiting off-quota international students.
The latter are highly lucrative – unregulated international fees can be far higher than the maximum £9,000 annual tuition fee for UK and EU undergrads. Indeed, research has shown that international students contributed £2.2bn in tuition fees income alone in 2008/09.
Crucially, overseas students are potentially more likely to be attracted to London, as a capital city of international standing. The marketing material for Coventry’s London Campus – which offers degrees such as finance and global business management – is littered with references to the capital, highlighting London as a global business and financial centre.
This is not the only way in which universities outside the M25 are reaching into London to attract students. For many years, Sunderland University has been offering degree programmes based at their so-called ‘London campus’ – but these degrees are actually taught by EThames college and accredited by Sunderland. Both institutions benefit from the arrangement: Sunderland by entering the London market and thereby increasing their appeal to international students; EThames by expanding into the degree market without the cumbersome and lengthy process of having to obtain degree-awarding powers.
But as well as having clear financial advantages for universities, this trend could benefit both foreign and domestic students. All students gain from having a greater pick of institutions in any one location. Those keen to study in London, attracted not only by the entertainment and nightlife but also by the wealth of academic resources and close promixity to employers, may have previously ruled out universities in regional cities such as Liverpool. Those students may now be tempted to enroll in the university.
More importantly, all students could benefit from the competition these new campuses will generate. London-based universities from UCL to London Met now face a new set of competitors from outside the capital. This should force the London incumbents to sharpen up and look for ways to improve their student offering, hopefully leading to a rise in quality across the board.
All this assumes, of course, that institutions are able to handle the logistics of running multiple campuses. Managing staff and monitoring students in a campus as much as 500 miles away from central administration could be difficult, particularly at a time when money is tight and the sector is under financial pressure. Institutions will have to work hard to ensure the student (and staff) experience is consistent across campuses or risk diluting their well-established brands.
The concern is that this trend could result in yet more of a shift of power and resources towards London. More students who might originally have moved out of London, thereby boosting the income of a new region, could opt to stay at home. But in a sector which has long been characterized by demand exceeding supply, anything that forces institutions to raise their game can only be a good thing.