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University Challengers

The White Paper is keen to open higher education up to 'challenger' institutions. But in which English counties are they going to be located? There's a challenge.
This article is more than 4 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.


The White Paper is explicit about creating opportunities for new entrants to the sector and identifies some recent additions:

Thanks to a series of reforms in the last Parliament, our higher education system is now more open than ever to different types of provider. Providers including University Campus Suffolk and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have secured DAPs since 2010. The reforms have also enabled several providers to become universities, such as University of Law and the Royal Agricultural University in 2012, and Regents University London in 2013.

The intention is to provide the frequently cited ‘level playing field’ to make it quicker and easier for new entrants to navigate their way through the difficult process of becoming a university. So, with all the opportunities offered by the HE White Paper for new entrants to the sector, how many new ‘challenger’ universities are we going to get?

A Dodge Challenger - not really what anyone has in mind here
A Dodge Challenger – not really what anyone has in mind here

The terminology is interesting here and in fact the only specific reference to ‘challenger’ institutions in the White Paper comes in the Minister’s foreword. I do like the notion of challengers, and indeed it is a useful concept (which I have seen used before) in considering the strategic ambition of existing universities. There is at least one institution which has taken it to a new level: you can now study at the Challenger Institute of Technology in Western Australia.

Only two years ago David Willetts set out ambitions to support university expansion into higher education ‘cold spots’ around the country in cathedral cities, county towns and coastal communities that currently lack provision.

There is a frequently repeated observation that there are only four counties in England which currently lack a university. With news that University Campus Suffolk is to become the University of Suffolk (previously only a fictional university fleetingly referred to in David Lodge’s Nice Work), from August 1st this will be down to three.

So only three counties will remain university-less. But which three are they? I think I know but I’m still not absolutely sure (and neither is Mike Boxall, who suggested I ask). So, there’s a challenge for you. Put your answers in comments.

19 responses to “University Challengers

  1. Last time we played this game we noted that Herefordshire is still waiting, and that Huntingdonshire hasn’t much prospect yet (although there was a point when it was linked with Peterborough, and they’re after one).

  2. Re Rutland. I’d argue that it isn’t a county in reality but a unitary district authority with the word county in its name so I don’t think it really counts. Moreover, I don’t think there is actually room for a university there (unless it is on a boat).

  3. Shropshire (Shrewsbury University…or University of Telford?), Wiltshire (University of Swindon…or Salisbury University??), Herefordshire (University of Hereford?)

  4. Harper Adams University is in Shropshire. If you’re going to count campuses, then Oxford Brookes has one in Swindon.

    ‘County’ seems to have become more contested as a notion – under Eric Pickles DCLG were promoting the ‘historic’ counties, then you’ve got the ‘ceremonial’ counties (which seem to exist in order to have Lords Lieutenant) and then the administrative counties. So, Huntingdonshire is a historic county, but isn’t a ceremonial county. You’d need to know which version in order to determine whether Bath was in Somerset or not.

    I thought Universities could be arcane, until I benchmarked them against local government…

  5. We do have some major definitional problems then as @mike_rat observes (whilst also casually deploying the correct plural of Lord Lieutenant) which probably render this whole exercise only slightly short of pointless. Still, once I add in the wild card of the Isle of Wight (thank you anonymous caller) I’m sure we can keep going with this.

  6. Northumberland is one. Northumbria University had a presence there at Longhirst Hall at one time but withdrew a few years ago. Despite its name, Northumbria is in Tyne and Wear.

  7. Cheshire East is surely one of the counties lacking a University and with an economy ripe for a challenger?

  8. A little late to the party but what was the answer? Northumberland, IoW, and…? Somerset? Where is the Uni of Warwick – postal address is Coventry – which I think is West Mids?

  9. I think we ended up with Somerset, Wiltshire, Northumberland and Isle of Wight (or Herefordshire on the basis that it hasn’t got a university quite yet and the Isle of Wight doesn’t really count)

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