London: Higher education leaders in the UK predict a two-tier higher education system of 'super league' universities and no frills providers.
So says PA Consulting Group, which launched its annual survey on the outlook for universities yesterday.
Almost all (90 per cent) of higher education (HE) leaders predict a dramatic polarisation of the HE system, according to PA.
HE leaders predict the emergence of an elite 'super league' of large research-intensive institutions, able to secure the lion's share of research funding and the most academically able students, coupled with substantial growth in low-cost, 'no-frills' provision at the other end of the market.
A number of respondents also expressed fears for institutions in the 'squeezed middle' that may find it difficult to compete at either end of this bi-polar market. Almost 50 per cent still expect to see institutional failures and two thirds foresee forced mergers.
What is driving these changes?
While some institutions still expect traditional degree programmes to sustain their future growth plans, the majority believe that Government policies are forcing them to look outside public teaching and research for business growth.
Over two-thirds see no prospect for growth in undergraduate teaching and grant-funded research and only six per cent expect to secure growth from publicly-funded research, down from 40 per cent in 2011.
In response to this, a quiet revolution is taking place in which established and new providers are reshaping the structure of the HE market.
Over 80 per cent of providers are developing strategic partnerships and alliances to diversify their business profiles, often with several different partners for different ventures, and 42 per cent of universities have substantial arrangements with private education companies.
Who are the new partnerships with?
Higher education leaders are prioritising non-regulated markets. The most common partnerships are with international institutions (88 per cent of HE institutions are developing partnerships with overseas HE institutions), or with industry and commercial organisations.
For example, Laureate International Universities — one of the world's largest networks of private higher education institutions — and the University of Liverpool are working together to deliver on-line programmes for students worldwide.
Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) are developing partnerships with industry or commercial organisations. One example is HP and the University of the West of England (UWE) who are working together to create 'industry-ready' graduates.
PA's Mike Boxall, higher education expert, comments, "A quiet revolution is happening beneath the radar of HE policy. The move away from mainstream public HE is seen by some as an unintended consequence of uncoordinated Government policies.
"While conventional Government-controlled undergraduate provision will remain very significant for most providers, it is becoming just part of a portfolio of education services across an expanding range of markets and customer groups. The new alliances offer rapid access to markets, resources and expertise that would otherwise take too long and cost too much to develop."