Campus close-up: Bath Spa University

West Country campus focuses on student exchange schemes and boosting overseas intake

July 31, 2014

Source: Alamy

Wider perspective: both local and overseas students benefit from interaction

On her first occasion meeting the parents of prospective students, Christina Slade, the vice-chancellor of Bath Spa University, spoke at an open day event and expressed her excitement at the prospect of students becoming international citizens and getting jobs in places such as China. But the parents may not have shared her enthusiasm. Instead of staying to hear more, she said, many walked “straight out of the door with their kids”.

The event illustrated to Professor Slade the challenge she would have in taking the small, post-92 institution forward into the global world of higher education. But since her arrival in early 2012, Professor Slade has pursued her aim of building an international dimension to the institution, whose main campus is set in the idyllic countryside of the Prince of Wales’ private estate just outside the city.

“There are lots of difficulties about people understanding that this is not about destroying community,” she said. “There was a perception in the university that in increasing the level of international students there may be a loss of the sense of community that characterised Bath Spa.”

Bath Spa has traditionally had a local focus, with a high proportion of students coming from the South West. But Professor Slade stressed that the international strategy is reciprocal.

“Our UK students have the opportunity to experience higher education in other countries whilst our international students benefit from, and contribute to, our close-knit creative community,” she said.

Higher Education Statistics Agency data for 2012-13 indicate that Bath Spa still has some way to go in its quest to internationalise, with only 140 of its student cohort of 7,865 in 2012-13 hailing from outside the European Union. However, it has made some progress in boosting its overseas intake. While non-EU students accounted for just 1.4 per cent of its entrants in 2010-11, that figure rose to 8.13 per cent in 2013-14.

Professor Slade said that the institution “was moving very fast on a number of fronts”. The university’s graduate level creative writing courses have strong enrolments from the US, and it has been developing its business teaching to attract students from China and Latin America, she said.

The university already offers a global citizen programme, in which a small group of students receive funding to complete a period of international study or work experience as part of their degree.

Students also have the opportunity to attend the Silk Road International Summer School. This is a three-week programme of study at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, giving students a chance to experience another culture.

Professor Slade firmly believes that her students need such experiences if they are to succeed in securing jobs after graduation.

“We are a globalised society… you are not going to get jobs here in the West Country unless you are part of that global network,” she said. “I want to bring networks of students from all around the world so that our kids are able to get jobs anywhere in the world and not be frightened.”

But there is a need to find solutions to the practical problems that local students face when taking part in some international activities, such as studying abroad for a term. Students may still have to pay rent on their UK accommodation while paying to live overseas, and they could end up paying fees in two locations or could lose their part-time jobs, Professor Slade noted.

Building fee relief from international partners into programmes could be one option, as could working more within the EU’s Erasmus programme, she said.

One of Professor Slade’s most recent initiatives in the drive to give Bath Spa a more international outlook is the creation of a Global Academy of the Liberal Arts. The network of 16 liberal arts institutions will develop joint teaching programmes, collaborative research programmes, and allow staff and students to move between institutions.

Professor Slade has been a driving force in setting up GALA, which launched officially in June, to help reinforce the importance of the liberal arts at a time when they are being “downplayed” by governments.

“The creative industries are the fastest growing sector of the economy,” she said. “Those people who say that the problem in the UK economy is that we need to do more engineering should think again.”

In numbers

16 institutions, including Bath Spa, in the newly created Global Academy of the Liberal Arts

holly.else@tsleducation.com

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