Bucks move collapses after rebuff over title

August 26, 2005

The future direction of Buckinghamshire's only public higher education institution was clouded in uncertainty this week following the collapse of relocation plans weeks after the rejection of its application to rebrand itself as a fully fledged university.

Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, which is looking for a new director following the decision of Bryan Mogford to retire, has confirmed to staff that its plans to consolidate its three campuses on one new site on the outskirts of High Wycombe have collapsed.

The news follows the confirmation in June that the college's bid for the university title had been rejected by the Quality Assurance Agency. Eight other higher education colleges that applied for university titles have since had their bids approved.

BCUC's marketing director, Peter Thomas, insisted this week that his college was a well-managed and financially sound institution, and was "set fair" for a strong future in the region.

But both initiatives had been fundamental to the college's strategic direction. In its 2002-07 plan, the college said that gaining the university title and consolidating its campuses were the initiatives that would determine its future shape and character.

The strategic vision of the college, which obtained the "university college" title in 1999 after gaining its own degree-awarding powers, was developed on the expectation that it would achieve university status this summer.

The college saw the title as signalling its "formal establishment as the publicly funded university in Buckinghamshire" and "the university of the region", giving it an essential competitive edge. It had even begun work on a new corporate identity.

In a list of "weaknesses" and "threats" in the plan, the college included "lack of full university title inhibiting a clear market identity within the sector", "failure to be awarded full university title" and "failure to achieve consolidation of campus locations".

Mr Thomas said that the title bid was "technically in abeyance", but said the college hoped to take it to a successful conclusion "as soon as possible".

"We are still a university to our students," he said. "It does not affect our courses at all."

He said the college was enjoying healthy growth and had seen a 15 per cent increase in applications this year.

In the 2002-07 vision document, the college said it would redevelop its main High Wycombe campus and move all provision there.

But since then it has developed a formal "University Project", which would involve selling the main High Wycombe campus for development by supermarket giant Tesco, and moving all three campuses to a single new location in Hughenden Park.

Mr Thomas said that the consolidation was going ahead despite the end of plans to move to Hughenden Park - the college was simply reverting to its original plan to develop its High Wycombe campus.

"The move to Hughenden didn't work out in the end," he said. "There were so many partners involved. Now we are looking after our own destiny. We are no longer moving to a campus away from the town centre and this gives us a prime site in High Wycombe, which is going to be quite a place in a few years.

"We are still going ahead, it's just at a different site," he said.

Steven Soskin, branch chairman of lecturers' union Natfhe at BCUC, said that staff were "obviously very disappointed" about the university title failure, and had been "very excited" about the relocation plans, which had been negotiated without plans for any compulsory redundancies.

"We have a big challenge for the future, but we are hopeful there is a strong future," he said.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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