Debates about the future of the federal University of London have been going on since Londonist was a mere slip of a tax-dodger at the LSE, about three stones lighter and a touch over a decade ago, and we dare say those debates were taking place a long time before we arrived on the scene.
At the heart of the threat to the University of London has always been the superiority complexes of 'the Big 4': LSE, UCL, KCL and Imperial. Believing themselves to be big enough and prestigious enough to act as universities in their own right, mutterings have always been made about breaking away from the federation unless they get more influence/money.
It's a bit like the situation in football, with the big clubs in the Premiership, and indeed Europe, demanding more power in the FA and UEFA. The big fish have a prima facie point, but there's never a real acknowledgement of the shared assets and the parts played by the so-called bit players.
It's no surprise that the Big 4 colleges of the University are, yet again, making noises about leaving the University of London, and according to an article in Education Guardian, a senior committee at Imperial College will meet on 9th December to vote on plans to leave. So far, so yawnsome and we've heard it all before. What is surprising is that, far from the empty threats of the past, the University faces a very real possibility of severe damage to its reputation from a body that isn't a constituent college: the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the body responsible for maintaining and improving the standards of higher education in the UK. The QAA's wondering if it should give the University a 'vote of broad confidence', which any institution with a decent reputation to maintain needs. As the Guardian reports:
The problem is understood to focus on how the university awards degrees, when it has nothing to do with teaching them or indeed setting the standards for them. There is no issue about the quality of the degrees taught at the colleges - each of the constituent colleges that has so far been inspected by QAA has passed with flying colours. But there are serious questions about the university's precise role in awarding the degrees.
Sir Graeme Davis, the University's vice-chancellor says the QAA are being thick:
They [the QAA] have a problem with understanding a simple thesis that the university is the colleges and the colleges are the university. If the QAA are satisfied with the colleges, then we are, too.
The QAA's final report will be published next year.