Universities’ new world

UNIVERSITIES considering their future role under the new structure that allows them to charge much higher tuition fees could do worse than study the object lesson provided by Leeds Metropolitan.

Here was an institution in which, until new management took over, a culture of excess reigned supreme. Indeed, the latest example of the waste of public money under the spending spree led by former vice chancellor Simon Lee is only now coming to light.

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As part of a leadership and management training drive, it transpires that Leeds Met lent more than £600,000 to support an ailing company providing specialised courses at a retreat in Bavaria. But not only was the university effectively subsidising My Peak Potential, in which it had a 30 per cent stake, it also spent more than £200,000 on staff and student trips to the Alpine lodge, including a visit by Mr Lee’s wife who was not a university employee.

The new wind of financial reality blowing through higher education means that this type of waste is now a thing of the past. But it also provides a pointer to the future, especially considering that Mr Lee prided himself on Leeds Met having the lowest fees in the sector – namely, that this type of university model is financially unsustainable.

The students now having to pay much higher fees are going to want much more for their money and this means that universities – now falling over themselves in the rush to raise their charges – must concentrate on their core function of providing top-quality education and take much greater care over their extra-curricular business activities.