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North star to set UCL's direction

Leeds v-c will replace Malcolm Grant and plans to extend 'global footprint'. Elizabeth Gibney writes

Michael Arthur, the newly appointed president and provost of University College London, has said he would like to see the institution extend its "global footprint".

In an interview with Times Higher Education, the current vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds said that expansion would involve focused and research-intensive collaborations rather than the "general grand campus idea".

UCL, which markets itself as "London's global university", already has campuses in Qatar and Australia, as well as collaborations with Yale University in the US and Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan.

"I'd be particularly interested in [opportunities] a bit similar to what's already been achieved...a gradual, careful, thoughtful expansion that would take into account the very nature of UCL," he said.

Professor Arthur's appointment was announced on 10 December. He will succeed Malcolm Grant, who retires in September 2013, having led the university since 2003.

UCL has an £800 million budget and more than 5,000 academic staff, making the job one of the biggest in UK higher education.

The magnitude of UCL's ambitions versus the limitations of its Bloomsbury site meant that a second campus - currently planned for Stratford, East London - would be needed in some form, Professor Arthur said. Accelerating the interdisciplinary nature of UCL's research and focusing on students - including international ones - would be further aims of his tenure, he added.

Over the past decade, UCL's international student numbers have increased by more than 50 per cent to over 9,000.

Professor Arthur, former chairman of the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, said that all vice-chancellors were concerned about the "visa situation", especially in light of London Metropolitan University losing its licence to sponsor international students earlier this year.

"We don't yet know the impact of the London Met issue...I am worried that all of that could have [led] students to be looking to other countries," he said.

Professor Arthur added that he saw no chance of UCL leaving the Russell Group to form a separate body with Oxbridge.

According to Sir Stephen Wall, chair of UCL's council, the provost position attracted 48 expressions of interest, with five people shortlisted.

Sir Stephen said that the council had chosen Professor Arthur because it was impressed by his personal qualities, record of attainment and achievements at Leeds, including its healthy financial situation.

Leeds has said that the process for appointing a new vice-chancellor will start immediately.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com.

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