College signs sponsor deal with Penguin

OIL companies may sponsor motor racing and Coronation Street comes courtesy of Cadbury's. Now, a University of London college has signed up sponsorship for some of the greats of English literature.

The study of Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and T S Eliot now comes to Royal Holloway College students "in association with" the publisher Penguin Classics, in the latest attempt to bring commerce to the quiet world of academia.

The publisher's famous penguin logo will even grace the Egham college's prospectus under the deal, the first in which a university arts course has been linked to a commercial sponsor. Editors at Penguin now hope that the idea will be taken up at universities across Britain and abroad.

Under the three-year deal Penguin will supply pounds 3,500 worth of books for the college library and offer discounts worth about pounds 40 to students buying classic texts. In return, a string of undergraduate and postgraduate courses will bear the Penguin name.

Royal Holloway's Head of English, Professor Kiernan Ryan, said: "People were anxious about being tainted; that the high spiritual value of literature and poetry was being linked with commercialism, but it's a sign of the times in the new Blairite world. I can hear people's cries of our selling out, but they will be clouded by envy that they did not think of it themselves."

The deal, the brainchild of Dr Robert Mighall, editor of Penguin Classics, and the English lecturer Dr Robert Eaglestone, is part of a trend towards increasing commercial sponsorship of universities. Private-sector finance pays for many university buildings, and controversy has raged over business sponsorship of professorships and research posts.

It is also the latest salvo in the battle for supremacy in publishing. Classic literature has become a million-pound-a-year business. But it is fiercely competitive, with cut-price editions of classic novels attacking the sales of academic paperbacks that include learned essays and footnotes.

Dr Mighall said: "Brand loyalty is the key thing. If academics know they can rely on us to supply what they need, which is reliable and reputable texts, it's worth spending the extra on an edition of Jane Eyre.

"We're aware that students are some of our major customers, and we're keen to put something back into the academic community."

Dr Eaglestone stressed that the deal would not compromise academic freedom. He said: "The English department will always recommend the best edition whether it's published by Penguin or not. This is simply providing more resources to help students learn and help research in the college."

The Association of University Teachers urged caution. A spokeswoman said: "After 15 years of cuts, higher education is forced to accept things it would not have considered 20 years ago. People in universities are using their creativity to find any way to get money."

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