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When University College London unveiled an ambitious billion pound expansion programme it could not have anticipated the uproar this would cause. Yet last week, the plans — which include a proposed £480m new campus on the former Olympic Park site in east London — led to UCL academics overwhelmingly backing a motion of no confidence in the management of the institution. Critics claim that aggressive growth has led to a dilution of academic standards.

John Gapper argues that the rumpus at UCL is part of a wider global trend affecting universities as mass tertiary education spreads and demand for elite colleges rises. “The market is globalising in the same way as industries such as finance and carmaking, forcing universities to keep pace or find a niche,” writes John.

One result of all this, says John, is that at the top end of the university sector we are starting to see developments more familiar with the worlds of finance and football — the emergence of global leagues and rankings, for example — than the traditional, cloistered “town and gown” environments of old. Maybe it is time, therefore, to revisit our expectations of universities and their scale. Some could be intimate, focused institutions tucked away in the provinces; others thriving urban juggernauts that are the core industry of city states. “There lies the lesson for UCL’s rebellious academics,” says John. “Big can be beautiful.”

Party poopers: Where are America’s deficit hawks when you need them? Edward Luce writes that as President Donald Trump embarks on a spending bonanza that will push the deficit and public debt to new highs, there is a notable absence of resistance from the Republican base. Under the Obama administration the Tea Party could be counted on to oppose any increase in government spending. Now when really ambitious spending commitments are being unveiled it seems that an attitude of “deficits don’t matter” prevails.

Cry freedom: As the UK government prepares to present details for a future outside the EU, Ruth Lea argues that only a hard Brexit can bring the freedom Britain requires. For the UK to thrive, she says, it must be free of the customs union and the single market. Only then will it be able to negotiate its own trade deals and tariffs, and have the freedom for regulatory reform.

Brighter future: What would South Africa look like under Cyril Ramaphosa? Barney Mthombothi says that the elevation of the ANC leader poised to be the country’s next president has already lifted the national mood. Ramaphosa understands business and economics — qualities that have already boosted confidence and the value of the rand amid hopes that he will bring much needed stability and coherent policymaking.

Best of the rest

Can Netanyahu survive? — Gregg Carlstrom in Politico

What the White House Knew About Rob Porter — Lindy West in The New York Times

We thought Boris Johnson would tell us his Brexit plans. He said “Go whistle” — Gina Miller in the Guardian

A Valentine for Max Eastman — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker

Schulz gone, Nahles comes: the last hope for the SPD — Stefan Kuzmany in Spiegel Online (in German)

What you’ve been saying

“Planetary techno-fixes will not solve all our problems” — letter from Dr Robin Russell-Jones in response to “The global technopolitics of space exploration

Elon Musk’s ambition to populate the world with electric vehicles running on solar-powered batteries is a vision we can admire, but pretending that Mars provides some insurance policy against fouling up our planet is delusional. Richard Branson is another entrepreneur whose obsession with space travel is combined with concern about climate change; but not every problem is amenable to planetary techno-fixes. The solution to climate change is closer to home and requires a huge investment in renewables and energy conservation, combined with a carbon tax that reflects the damage that fossil fuels impose on human health and our environment. Virgin Galactic or building colonies on Mars are vainglorious projects with little purpose and a huge carbon footprint.

Comment by Paul A Myers on “The enigma that is Melania Trump

It is doubtful that Melania Trump is “overwhelmed” by her marriage. One suspects that it is pretty light duty. I admire the arc of her life: where she came from and where she got to. There are hundreds of trophy wives at her level. She is apparently one of the shrewdest of this sharp-minded, beautiful lot; her taciturnity confirms this. She will be the sole member of this family to walk away from the experience with dignity intact. And time spent with small children is time well spent.

“FT must be lauded for its coverage of disinformation” — letter from Hugo Anson

The FT should be congratulated for its coverage over the past year about disinformation by Donald Trump, Russia, the Democrats and others. An ex-KGB agent, codenamed “Boris”, observes in Nelson DeMille’s The Lion “The British are masters of disinformation, the Americans have learnt from them, the French think they invented it, and the Germans are not subtle enough to put out a good lie. As for the Italians, they believe their own disinformation, and act on it. However, the best disseminators of disinformation in the world are the Russians.” Nothing has changed.

Today’s opinion

FT Alphaville: Real US interest rates are sanguine about the budget and pessimistic about growth

FT View: A great power rivalry plays out in the Maldives
Crisis in the archipelago tests India and China’s ability to contain tensions

FT View: Boris Johnson’s withered olive branch for Brexit’s opponents
Britain’s foreign secretary tries to soothe Remainers without offering concessions

South Africans pin their hopes on Cyril Ramaphosa
The ANC leader is probably better prepared to be president than any of his predecessors

It is time the UK proposed a post-Brexit trade relationship
A straightforward deal with no hidden ‘regulatory alignments’ will benefit Britain

Instant Insight: Benjamin Netanyahu fights for his political career
The Israeli state has a record of holding the most powerful in the country to account

Where is the Tea Party when you need it?
Republican hawks are no longer exercised by yawning federal deficits

Opinion today: A good bit of fear for markets
The return of uncertainty is a good thing, but it could get worse

FT Alphaville: Someone is wrong on the internet, modern servitude edition

The Big Read: Investing: activism enters the mainstream
Traditionally seen as aggressive, a new wave of players is taking a different approach to getting a seat on the board

City universities are the new global brands
The elite education industry is transforming like investment banking and football

North Korea’s cheerleaders and the art of political distraction
Kim Jong Un tops the podium for best propaganda at this year’s Winter Olympics

FT View

FT View: A great power rivalry plays out in the Maldives
Crisis in the archipelago tests India and China’s ability to contain tensions

FT View: Boris Johnson’s withered olive branch for Brexit’s opponents
Britain’s foreign secretary tries to soothe Remainers without offering concessions

The Big Read

The Big Read: Investing: activism enters the mainstream
Traditionally seen as aggressive, a new wave of players is taking a different approach to getting a seat on the board

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