SCOTLAND’S oldest university has suggested privatisation could be on the cards as a result of Britain leaving the European Union.
The principal of St Andrews University, Sally Mapstone, said that the institution had a responsibility to explore “all credible funding options” after the Brexit vote.
Mapstone said that the uncertainty of Brexit “must raise questions about the funding model” of the university.
Speaking at her first address after being installed as the principal of the University of St Andrews in September, Mapstone said: “As a university, approximately 18 per cent of St Andrews’ funding, outside research funding, is provided from the Scottish Government.
“We are grateful for that funding, and entirely accept our accountability in terms of it, but that figure, the uncertainties of Brexit, and the ongoing governance changes in higher education across the UK, must raise questions about the funding model for this university over the next decades.
“I see it as my responsibility to explore all the credible funding options that are available to us.”
Asked if they were ruling out privatisation in the short to medium term, a spokeswoman for the university provided a link to the principal’s statement.
One difficulty St Andrews could encounter in becoming private would be its small endowment – money from donations and investments – which at £56.8m is only the 18th biggest in the UK.
Mapstone said she would seek to grow this, saying: “I also intend to build on the remarkable legacy of my predecessor, Professor Louise Richardson, in continuing, with our colleagues in the development office, and with the engagement of our staff, students and alumni, to fund-raise to build the university’s endowment and to secure scholarships, posts and key capital projects.”
There are five private universities in the UK, with the oldest, the University of Law, being established in 1962, some 500 years after St Andrews.
Only one of these institutions, the University of Buckingham, has a royal charter.
If St Andrews were to go private, it would be able to raise its fees beyond the current maximum of £9,250.
One private university, Regent’s University London charges students £16,000 per annum.
The other two private institutions are BPP University and Arden University.
Back in 2009, Sir Roy Anderson, then rector of Imperial College London, said up to five leading institutions should be privatised to protect their world-class reputations, if financial times “became very tough.”
Anderson said that privatisation would allow the universities to raise their fees and recruit more foreign students.
He said: “If we were a business you wouldn’t worry about nationality, you would just take the best students from wherever they came from the in the world.
“We are taxpayer funded and we have in the past tried to recruit 60 per cent of our students from home and 40 per cent from overseas.
“But if financial times became very tough we would change that because we would have to survive and compete internationally so we would go where the market was.”
Almost a quarter of academic staff at St Andrews are from other EU countries as are 31 per cent of research staff.