Time for Scotland's first independent university

Between the lines by John Blundell

GLASGOW University is to abandon its Crichton campus in Dumfries. This is a sadness. Perhaps it is also an opportunity. The handsome 85 acre site is a natural home to a thriving college. The location has a good claim to be the most beautiful campus in all of Britain.

Universities represent fountains of income to their host communities. Part of the success of Edinburgh comes from the multiple universities in the city - Heriot Watt, Queen Margaret's, Napier and the once tiny and obscure Edinburgh University, now world famous.

They are rather more than their academic staff and undergraduates. Universities create a penumbra of associated roles. Far more jobs are created from support services than from teaching.

Yet all of Scotland's universities are subject to the detailed direction and control of the Scottish Executive. Is it not time Scotland created its first entirely independent university? I suggest Dumfries.

It may be argued that the host town, with a population of 40,000, is too small. Dumfries could flourish if the site, now in something of a crisis, could be a private university. Dumfries is larger than Oxford or Cambridge was when they started and far larger than St Andrews was when it was initiated.

The model I have in mind is the University of Buckingham. This is the UK's only autonomous university. It receives no state funding and is entirely free of the regulatory interference to which every other college is subjected. Buckingham has just been voted the top campus in Britain in the National Student Survey.

I quote Buckingham's vice-chancellor, Dr Terence Kealey: "Independence from the state is a blessing. We have a minimal bureaucratic burden. This translates into high morale for both our students and our teachers. Our undergraduates are also our customers. We have to deliver or they will go elsewhere. An independent university in Scotland would be more agile that those controlled by the Scottish Executive. A previous vice-chancellor of Buckingham, Sir Alan Peacock, lives in Edinburgh. He could offer sage advice."

Our nationalised universities are a strange mix of the highly talented and the deeply slothful. Too many academics are entirely indifferent to students. Some regard undergraduates as interruptions to their research.

Just as companies thrive when they are liberated from state control, so could a private Scottish university.

To some ears, my notion may sound outlandish or impractical. Yet look at the top universities in the w