The Independent Uni Alternative; the Rise in Fees Has Put Independent Universities on a Level Playing Field Enabling Small Not-for-Profit Institutions Such as Richmond University to Stand out on Their Strengths, Writes Niki Chesworth

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Byline: Niki Chesworth

IN the US, all the prestigious liberal arts colleges are private not-forprofit universities. With all of their fee income going into funding the university, the quality of the education provided is recognised as being of the highest standard.

However, that is not the only difference between universities in the UK and America. At a liberal arts college students have the opportunity to explore different areas of study in their first year without having to commit to a single track, allowing them to broaden their educational experience. Therefore instead of studying, for instance, politics and only politics, at a liberal arts college an undergraduate student has the opportunity to widen their education. For example, Richmond University has a course on creativity that gives focus to lateral thinking and problem solving. It also runs a course on environmental sustainability which places an emphasis on understanding the nature of scientific thinking. Richmond aims to produce students who are able to think through a problem and not just regurgitate facts.

A key difference between this independent university -- which has a firstyear campus in leafy Richmond and a central London campus in Kensington for students in later years -- and many state options is the teaching hours and class sizes. Instead of sitting through lectures with dozens, if not hundreds, of other students, Richmond University classes are small, with an average of 18 per class (2011/12). Students also have a minimum of 15 hours of teaching per week with experienced faculty.

"Our ethos is on interactive teaching rather than lectures," says Professor John Annette, university president. "We are now celebrating our 40th year as a higher education provider, however it is only now with the increase in tuition fees at public universities that we are on a level playing field in terms of cost.

"This is allowing our strengths to stand out and as a result we are attracting increasing numbers of UK students. We expect to increase these numbers to 40 per cent of our overall intake -- although we are still very much an international university. Our international standing is something that greatly appeals to students as this, too, broadens their education, their networking and their opportunities to study and work overseas. We are in a global marketplace and prepare our students for careers across the world, although our students often also go on to the top graduate schools such as LSE, King's, Oxford, Harvard and Yale.

"Employers and other universities say that you can tell who a Richmond student is because of how well prepared they are -- we place a lot of emphasis on academic quality as well as skills for the workplace including communication and written skills. In addition we offer a full-time semester internship with students doing courses in the late afternoon or evening so they can combine valuable work experience and study. We place students in a range of environ-ments from museums to leading businesses as well as abroad, whether that is Florence for the fashion industry or an international corporation in Beijing. We also have our own study centres in Florence and Rome and offer internships to our students in China and the USA as well as the UK. …