Universities Challenged

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The Coalition insists their reforms to the English university system will create a healthy marketplace where universities have to compete to fill their places and students become consumers shopping around for value for money, and driving up quality. But - as the Secretary of State responsible for universities, Business Secretary Vince Cable, tells this programme - that part of the reforms is "experimental".

So how is the experiment working out ?

For more than a year, Radio 4 has been given inside access to the University of Bedfordshire as it, along with every other university in England, tries to recruit as many students as it can, setting fees as high as it dares.

The programme hears how Bedfordshire's outspoken Vice Chancellor, Professor Les Ebdon (who midway through the year became the Government's independent universities access czar) justified charging nine thousand pounds a year - the same as Oxford and Cambridge. And how did he handle a tabloid campaign attacking him and the University's so called "Mickey Mouse" degrees?

Professor Ebdon's successor at Bedfordshire, former Labour universities minister Bill Rammell, also responds to the view that it's just too easy to get into his university.

"Universities Challenged" charts an extraordinary year for English universities. It's a story of risk, good news and some nasty surprises .



Produced by Ivor Gaber
An IGA production for BBC Radio 4.
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