Sir, John Gapper is completely correct (“ Universities are the new global brands”, February 15) in saying that the development of global brands in higher education parallels what we see in other sectors such as car making and finance. For some time indeed, higher education has begun to exemplify the “winner-takes-all” phenomenon, whereby the top performers in a particular industry gain rewards out of all proportion to their relative quality.

Whether this is necessarily a good thing is another matter. There may well be benefits to the university and those who run it (or try to). But there is an obvious risk of creating a two-tier national system that devalues the contributions to society and the economy of those institutions that put meeting the needs of students and employers ahead of the push for prestige. There are also strong implications for equity because the “world-class” universities are rarely those that lead in recruiting students from less favoured backgrounds.

There is also the accountability issue. Institutions such as University College London and NYU receive large amounts of public funding directly (research grants, contracts) and indirectly (state underwriting of student loans, tax breaks). They also benefit from the state-sponsored regulatory (and other) infrastructure.

There seems to be general recognition that globalisation brings gains and losses, which are far from fairly spread. It would be a pity if the lessons being painfully learned from globalisation in other sectors were not to be heeded in higher education.

Roger Brown

Emeritus Professor of Higher Education Policy and former Vice Chancellor,
Southampton Solent University,
Southampton, UK

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