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Warwick rivals Oxbridge - as a centre of earning

Emma Cook
Saturday 06 June 1998 23:02 BST

IT WAS the moment when Warwick University's status was finally assured. No longer the young pretender of academia, its snapping up of Germaine Greer from Cambridge last week to become its professor of English and comparative literature showed that it is now among the elite, and a rival to Oxbridge.

Greer's return to the university where she wrote The Female Eunuch follows a series of successes, proving that Warwick is the creme de la creme of educational institutions.

Last month both the Times and the Financial Times ranked it ahead of Oxford in terms of teaching standards, while a fortnight ago, the German magazine Der Spiegel ranked Warwick as number four in Europe for business and economics. And there are more ratings of excellence: Warwick is fourth in the country for research and it demands the fifth highest total of A-level results. Applications for courses there have increased 3 per cent on last year's figures.

Set among 720 acres with about 15,000 students on site, it's also one of the largest campuses of its type.

So what makes Warwick so successful?

The university can come up with a multitude of reasons - and they're all to do with cash. Profit is the driving force behind their vision of success. One of the Sixties' campus universities, Warwick was once the centre of radicalism - the left-wing historian EP Thompson taught there. Even then it was keen to generate links with companies, but crunch- time came in 1981 when Margaret Thatcher penalised universities for their supposedly ivory-tower mentality.

"We adopted two fairly simple strategies," explained deputy registrar Jim Rushton. "To turn outward and make friends. And to generate as much revenue as we could to replace what we knew would be a continuing reduction from government." The university managed both successfully and is now reaping the financial rewards.

Spokesman Peter Dunn said: "Oxford and Cambridge may have had endowments for the last 500 to 600 years but nobody else, we believe, earns it day by day like Warwick. And we can spend it as we like. If you get it from government there are strings attached."

Inevitably, perhaps, Tony Blair recently dropped in for a visit. It is, after all, New Labour writ large, with education and commerce working in tandem and making as few demands as possible on government.

Thus, unlike any other university in the country, Warwick generates 60 per cent of its own income, earning about pounds 130m a year. Its assets include the Warwick Manufacturing Group, one of Britain's fastest-growing enterprises with a turnover of more than pounds 50m, run by academic entrepreneur Kumar Bhattacharyya. There's also the Warwick Business School - one of the top ones in Europe - earning 75 per cent of its income.

The university is extremely media savvy. A six-figure sum has been spent on a television studio to get more academics on television news and current affairs programmes and promote Warwick Arts Centre. As Mr Dunn shows off the gleaming equipment he says: "We don't let the students touch any of this. It's purely to promote the university."

All this is guaranteed to impress pundits and politicians, but what about the students themselves? With the best will in the world, Coventry and Leamington Spa, the campus's nearby towns, will never be able to compete with many other university towns such as Manchester or Brighton.

Meanwhile, the eating and drinking areas within the campus itself tend to look as new and shiny as airport business-class suites.

The swanky corporate decor hasn't quite extended to the Student Union, however, and it is the only part of the campus so far that seems, well, studenty. At last the comforting familiarity of scuffed seats, The Stone Roses blaring out of the jukebox and half-empty pints of snakebite full of floating fag ends.

Jennie Bell, 21, a theatre studies student, says: "On an educational level, it's not living up to what I expected. It's more 'This is a business', and we're part of that business. There are lots of facilities but they seem to spend more time on research and impressing conference guests." Her friend, a psychology student who preferred not to be named, agrees. "It's good for science. But because they make so much money from that, psychology has been made into various scientific subjects which I don't think should be the case."

At a nearby table, history of art student Joe Wray, 21, says: "Because it's campus you're surrounded by students, which can do your head in. Some people also say it's more like a hotel than a university."

His friend Emily, 20, also studying history of art, agrees: "You sometimes get the feeling they care more about people renting out the spaces for conference than they do about the students."

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