A capital idea: what better way to boost your income?

Universities' London-based ventures cause unions to caution about conditions. John Morgan reports

February 25, 2010

Regional universities are setting up London campuses in growing numbers to maximise their income from international students.

Among the institutions that appear to believe London's streets are paved with gold are Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of East Anglia and Coventry University.

However, the trend has led to concerns about working conditions for academics.

Glasgow Caledonian's plans have already drawn fire from campus unions, which are angry that the university intends to spend an initial £1 million on a campus in the capital shortly after making two compulsory redundancies.

Mike Robinson, national education officer for Unite, said he expected other institutions to consider London centres.

"Our main concern is that staff are not forced to transfer to London locations," he said. "The high cost of living in London is another factor, and Unite will be seeking London weighting allowances for staff working at such campuses to cover this cost."

Coventry and Glasgow Caledonian said that staff would receive London weightings, but UEA would only say that pay "would be determined in the normal way".

UEA opened a study centre in a leased office block in the City of London in January, a joint venture with private educational company INTO. It could eventually host 1,500 students and 200 staff.

The university's accounts show that the estimated annual rental charge is £1.5 million.

UEA's most recent newsletter says there will be "almost no relocation" of staff, but adds that masters programmes will be taught by "staff who will travel from Norwich or may be based in London".

Edward Acton, UEA vice-chancellor, says in the newsletter: "We know that for international students, London has the strongest appeal."

But he adds that the campus will raise UEA's profile with home students, too, as well as "enriching the experience of Norwich-based students" and offering better access to national centres of political, scientific and cultural power.

Glasgow Caledonian's London campus for up to 300 students is scheduled to open in September.

A spokeswoman said the campus will be "aimed at a predominantly international group of students who are already based in London", although home students can apply.

Tom McDonnell, University and College Union branch secretary at Glasgow Caledonian, said: "Money that's generated here (in Glasgow) is going to be spent on creating employment in London, while up here we've got colleagues facing compulsory redundancy."

Coventry plans to open a London campus in October, aiming eventually to build the number of students to 2,500. The offshoot is aimed purely at international students, with no home students admitted.

Northumbria University has also opened a campus in Islington to house its School of Design London in the UK's fashion hub.

Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said branch campuses rarely offered the same student experience as home campuses, as they tended to omit key facilities such as students' unions and pastoral support.

"I think universities will have to price their fee levels competitively to ensure they attract students to what is a very high-cost residential option," he said. "They will have to demonstrate that they are providing good value and not a stripped-down, limited service."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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