Monday, May 11, 2009

Should a university be allowed to fail?

A very depressing discussion that is taking place about the problems at London Metropolitan University on the Times Higher website is prompting me to consider what failure might mean for a university. Would the government close down a university in the same way that, for example, a hospital might be closed? The problems at London Met are complex, and there is no doubt it is in serious crisis.

I studied the history of the Polytechnic of North London as part of my PhD thesis. PNL had a rather lively and brief existence before it was merged with London Guildhall (formerly City of London Poly) to form the rather unwieldy and troubled university that is now London Met. There are no doubt many lessons here to be learned about mergers and mission drift, but also more generally about the massification of HE (and the ways in which widening participation has been managed and funded), and university governance.

But I'm still wondering, at what point should mistakes and mismanagement become fatal?


topgold said...

I'm working in an Irish third level institution that will face the budgetary axe if the current mood runs its course. The escape route leads into a path of institutional collaboration with other third levels but as many inside the halls of academia know, there's often strong resistance in the executive suite at sharing assets--unless there's a strong financial incentive laid on by the government or European Community.

Ferdinand von Prondzynski said...

Interestingly, I have just commented on the same issue in my own blog. The trouble is, we have no idea really what constitutes a failed university, nor do we know what to do with one if we have it.

This is part of the wider problem that higher education is increasingly bedevilled by the contradictory expectations of the various stakeholders and the unsustainable approach to resourcing and funding.