by John Blundell in Association Management Quarterly, Autumn 2006

The news that the University of Buckingham had come number one in the Times Higher Education MORI Survey of final year students in Britain came as no surprise at all to me. Indeed I have long hoped younger son James will enter Buckingham in 2007 to study law.

This independent survey quizzed students about a wide range of issues relating to all aspects of their satisfaction with their university experience. Buckingham came in first with the Open University clearly in second and St Andrews just in third. The bottom five were in descending order: Liverpool Hope, University College of Creative Arts, Lincoln, Thames Valley and Westminster. I must admit to not knowing three out of five of them at all.

Some 157,000 students participated in the MORI survey. But where are top schools such as my own alma mater LSE and other greats such as Warwick and Oxford and Cambridge?

Well it turns out that not enough students on those campuses filled out the survey for them to qualify. To the economist in me this is interesting. Are they plain arrogant or is the opportunity cost of their time so high they made a rational decision not to bother?

There is also neat game theoretic puzzle here: why participate in such a survey if it might mean your degree is devalued in some tiny way? My hunch is LSE and the rest will be right up there in the top ten next year. But I also understand totally why top people such as LSE students are reluctant to participate and I also expect Buckingham to stay tops.

The real issue here is that Buckingham is the only private university in the UK and therefore the students are treated as ‘valued customers’ as vice-chancellor Dr Terence Kealey calls them. They are customers not snotty, spotty distractions to obscure research agendas.

As the recent President of the Student Union, Charles Ramson, says: “I wasn’t surprised to learn that the University of Buckingham topped the National Student Survey. This university is simply great. Buckingham University embraces the individuality of each student and understands the ‘trueness’ of the learning experience. Choosing to come here has been one of the best decisions of my entire life. Here every student matters – period.”

The whole atmosphere at Buckingham is different and the students are nice and polite. They work full time and gain their degrees in two years not three. If you want to major in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll then Buckingham is not for you.

Buckingham started in my office nearly 40 years ago when the IEA published ‘Towards an Independent University’ by HS Ferns of the University of Birmingham’s Political Science Department. The paper was subtitled ‘A View of the Urgent Need for Establishing an Institution of Higher Education Free from Government Control.’ Recently we also published ‘Buckingham at 25’ – it is subtitled ‘Freeing the Universities from State Control’.

From day one the founders wanted nothing from government other than it get out of the way. Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher saw that clearly. She also saved the Open University which comes in second. However Margaret’s successors as Education Secretary tried all they could to halt Buckingham. For example it was not allowed to call itself a University or to award degrees – it was a College with Licences. Then with Margaret in as Prime Minister in 1979 things changed as Dr Rhodes Boyson MP was appointed Minister of State at Education. However the Sir Humphreys in the then D.E.S. were so opposed to the idea of Buckingham that Rhodes told Buckingham officials to hand deliver all mail and documents to his home rather than his office where they would be lost.

So out of this turgid squalid piece of typical seventies leftist nonsense Buckingham rises magnificiently to the number one position in the nation’s academies. When you think about it, it was inevitable and should be no surprise but it is delicious to have one’s prejudices and economics confirmed so vividly and clearly by a much respected MORI survey. Take a look at Buckingham for your talented kids.