Education: Small can be beautiful when research is big: Brian Fender, 58, University of Keele.

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The Independent Online
BRIAN FENDER was brought in nearly a decade ago to improve Keele's research performance. His previous job was as director of an international research institute in France.

The result is that every academic appointed to Keele has to teach and research. He says: 'We can get people of a national and international capability. We would not be able to do that if we were a teaching-only institution.'

Up to 25 per cent of Keele's students are postgraduates, and Keele has the largest proportion of academics under the age of 35. Dr Fender is not averse to poaching academics he believes are getting a raw deal elsewhere.

He is committed to maintaining the university's special joint honours programme, the first of its kind, which he believes has aided cross-fertilisation in research. He believes Keele's special mission lies in conducting research at the boundaries of disciplines. Unlike many old vice-chancellors, he does not believe that research spoils are limited: 'There is enormous scope for the expansion of research at the interface of disciplines.'

On the teaching side, Keele aims to introduce modular options, but these will be limited: 'We will still guide students into what they need to be achieving at the end of the day. In a lot of pick'n'mix polytechnic programmes there seems to be too much freedom to drop out.'

Keele is small in comparison with most institutions - the student population is 4,500 with plans for expansion to no more than 7,500 by the year 2000. Dr Fender believes smallness combined with originality of research programmes places it in a very flexible position.

Dr Fender, also a Fellow of St Catherine's College, Oxford, believes in preserving the best of 'collegiate' traditions. He says: 'Balancing managerial structures with the freedom and anarchy of the collegiate system will always be important. It is a question of getting the best out of both. New universities will need to acquire some collegiate characteristics.'

Dr Fender believes the VCs' committee plays an important role: 'Political muscle is proportionate to numbers and we now cater for a lot of students. The advantages of a system which can speak to the Government as one must outweigh the disadvantages of the Government playing one set off against another.'

(Photograph omitted)

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