Colleges to face wait for upgrading (CORRECTED)

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VICE-CHANCELLORS may insist on a much longer probationary period for colleges aiming to achieve university status.

Last week, John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said that he wanted a more robust approach to applications. Colleges seeking the power to award their own research degrees - necessary if they want to become universities - should have a track record over two or three years of successfully offering degree programmes, supervised by another institution. To be considered for university status there should then be a further two or three years in which a college demonstrated it was able to maintain high standards.

Vice-chancellors will consider his proposals today. A paper proposes that three years might be too short for the successful offering of research degrees. 'This is barely one complete generation of students,' it says. Moreover, it asks whether a two-year break before university status is given is sufficient, given the need to be more robust.

It has now emerged that three colleges seeking university status have failed to clear the first major hurdle - the power to award research degrees. The decision was made just before Mr Patten announced the need for tougher guidelines. The applications of Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, the Roehampton Institute in Surrey and the Bolton Institute of Higher Education have been in the pipeline since last year.

Dr Roger Brown, chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council, said: 'We are concerned about the degree of maturity of these institutions.'

Dr Stephen Holt, rector of Roehampton, said that he would be lodging an appeal. 'We were told we had not made out a prima facie case. We are going to appeal because we do feel we have met all the criteria. In addition, now that John Patten wants to take powers to delay both the awarding of research degree status, and the conferring of university status, this amounts to a double break.'

Janet Trotter, principal of Cheltenham and Gloucester, said: 'We are in a very fluid situation. We do not know if they are going to close the door for ever, change the criteria or what. We have been told to go back and talk to them. You have to ask the question of why John Patten pronounced as he did. I think there is a sense that some of the new institutions are in difficulty. They want to be sure that institutions can sustain the quality expected of a British university.'


Following a report in yesterday's Independent about colleges aspiring to become universities, the Bolton Institute of Higher Education has asked us to make it clear that no decision has been reached on its application for research degree status.