Auriol Stevens: 'Should we think about creating a new university in Winchester?'

Should top independent schools set up a new private university on the lines of American liberal arts colleges, providing high-quality teaching, a broad curriculum and charging full fees?

The proposal, floated by Terence Kealey, Vice-Chancellor of the private University of Buckingham, may delight a possible incoming Tory government. It may attract parents who are used to paying high school fees as well as those who are afraid that their offspring are being squeezed out of university by poorer applicants Applications from the poorest groups are up by nearly one-third this year.

But the idea will appal anyone interested in improving social mobility. A growing pile of reports shows how entrenched unfairness is in Britain. Private schools give access to top universities and are the way the rich secure privilege into the next generation. Expensive private universities, feeding rich students into graduate courses – something poorer students cannot afford – would dig divisions deeper. Still, there is something here that might be built on. Dr Kealey cites independence from government as one reason for his plan. Freedom from political interference is vital for universities. Public money comes with strings and right now, thanks to London Metropolitan University, there are worrying signs of strings being tightened.

For the moment, British universities are more independent that most others in the world, including American state universities. To suggest otherwise is mischievous. Even "private" universities like Harvard receive a lot of government money from tax breaks, research grants and student support.

But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and top independent schools with their impressive social networks could be useful allies in the defence of university autonomy if they could bring their clout to bear without worsening inequality of opportunity. Crises create opportunities. While universities are worried that cuts will limit opportunities for poorer students, fee-charging schools are getting nervous. They are under pressure to account for the public benefit they provide to those who can't afford their fees and to show that what they do fits with the charitable intentions of their founders.

So, let's suppose two or three of the most famous fee-charging schools – perhaps those with the biggest endowments and the highest prestige – became universities. They could do so by merging with existing universities to provide new opportunities not for the rich but for poorer students.

Take Winchester. The university in Winchester is pioneering a broader undergraduate curriculum. Winchester College is an ancient and distinguished school. Its beautiful buildings would make a fine university campus. The school has a high academic reputation and expertise in post-16 teaching.

Together they could develop a new type of institution. It might offer a broad foundation degree andundergraduate curriculum designed to overcome social disadvantage by teaching soft skills – team work, presentation and so on – while giving students a broad liberal education. Vocational skills could be bolted on throughout life as the demands of work change.

Winchester University has degree-awarding powers. Its students are entitled to loans and grants. It gets public funding like any other university, it is a charity and it has control of its own admissions. It has the freedom to innovate. Winchester College is master in its own house so long as it sticks to charitable purposes.

It would be exciting to see them work together. Lustre would be added to the less glamorous end of higher education at minimal cost to the taxpayer. Great educational institutions whose charitable purpose has become problematic could find a new purpose. The divisiveness of these great schools might be mitigated. At least it would be a more creative response to economic crisis and social immobility than trench warfare and whingeing.

The writer is the former editor of Times Higher Education

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
newsJohn Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
News
i100
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

KS1 Primary Teacher Supply Halifax

£130 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Are you an inspirational, ent...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Maths Teacher required for ...

Lower Key Stage 2 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education and recruitin...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Group: Being the UK market leader, Ran...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit