Campus close-up: Coventry University College

Flexible model at West Midlands institution providing ‘budget’ higher education means students can balance their study, work and care commitments

October 9, 2014

Coventry University’s low-cost college focused on students with lower entry grades could become “more separate” from its parent in the future, allowing the university to become increasingly research-focused and continue its progress up the league tables.

Coventry University College, which charges fees of £6,500 for science and engineering courses and £5,500 for classroom-based subjects, has grown to a total population of 1,200 students since opening in 2011.

The college, operating as a private limited company owned by the university, is based in buildings on the university campus which it leases from its parent.

Ian Dunn, Coventry’s deputy vice-chancellor (student experience), said that although there was no plan for the college to apply for its own degree-awarding powers at present – it has used the university’s to date – that was “always a possibility”.

Such a move could “allow the college to simplify even further”, he added. “The university is really focused on teaching and learning…but it’s moving into a much heavier research intensity. The college isn’t [about] that. The college is a widening participation institution.

“I can’t think of a university that has a really brilliant widening participation agenda and is research intensive. They are just so challengingly different. To have that little bit more separation, within the same set of values, might well be a focus that works well.”

Mr Dunn noted the importance of league tables for universities (where entry tariffs are a factor in performance). Coventry University is 27th in The Guardian league table, he added, with “nine Russell Group universities beneath us”.

Mr Dunn was responsible for setting up the college and works closely with John Dishman, its chief executive. The college is “a lower-priced higher education offer that absolutely maintains the quality aspect”, Mr Dunn said.

Courses are offered in areas such as law, accounting, finance, tourism and marketing, as well as science and engineering.

If they are studying full time, students receive 20 hours of tuition a week, two hours of which are in a tutorial group of five. If they are studying part time, students can opt to study five days a week in the mornings or evenings, allowing them to balance work and study.

Speaking to a group of students at the college, they are enthusiastic about a model that allows them to balance work – or looking after her children in the case of one mother – while taking courses in law or computing. Some are in their thirties or forties; some with a previous disappointing experience of university study.

Others are younger. One student left school with no GCSEs, went into the army, completed an access course at the college and is now heading for St George’s, University of London to take a paramedic science foundation degree. He spoke about the extra support he had needed from his tutors at the college to adjust to writing essays. Although his experience had been overwhelmingly positive, he said that he had heard the institution referred to as “the ghetto college” by some in Coventry.

But Mr Dunn believes the college is a better bet than enrolling for higher education in further education or private colleges.

“We’re not convinced that’s the best place for most students to have their higher education experience – in the private or the further education providers…while there may not be research within the college, there’s research within the group [of Coventry institutions] and academic exchange between the two paths [university and college],” he said.

Asked why the college was launched, Mr Dunn said the aim was to “challenge our own thinking to see if we can offer [higher education] at a lower price”.

He added that the 2010 Browne review “suggested a £6,000 or £7,000 fee [for undergraduates] and that was uppermost in our thoughts at the time” (the Browne review recommended that a levy should be applied on fees higher than £7,000).

If the college is offering degrees at lower cost, does that mean it is paying its staff less than the university, given that staff account for the bulk of costs? Mr Dunn said that staff at the college are on “separate pay and conditions” packages from those at the university, although he added that in reality the “same levels of pay” apply across the two. But he admitted that pensions are less rewarding at the college, with staff and the institution paying into stakeholder pensions of the type common to private employers.

On interest from other universities in the model, Mr Dunn said: “We’ve had hundreds of visits…But not everyone is willing to take the risks associated with it.”

In numbers

1,200 - the student population now at the university college

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

Campus news

University of Edinburgh
Scientists are studying eggs from emus and chickens – as well as a gene named Sonic Hedgehog – to understand the causes of birth defects. The team from the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh has learned that the gene named after the Sega video game character plays a key role in ensuring that babies’ fingers and toes develop properly, and that it works in the same way in birds.

Nottingham Trent University
A newspaper set up by a student is to expand to 30 UK cities. The University Paper was set up by Nottingham Trent University student Chris Moss in 2012 with the support of The Hive, the institution’s centre for entrepreneurship. Mr Moss, who graduated this year in business management and marketing, has signed a deal with Simian Publishing to expand the monthly title to 30 cities by 14 January, taking its circulation to 1.2 million.

University of Bristol
Sir David Attenborough has opened a £56.5 million life sciences building. The site at the University of Bristol contains a five-storey laboratory wing that houses acoustic chambers for bat research, an insectarium and facilities to study ant and bee behaviour. On top of the building is a greenhouse – the GroDome – where light, humidity and temperature can be manipulated to create tropical conditions.

Falmouth University
Dawn French is to become the chancellor of a specialist arts university in the South West. The comedian will take up her position at Falmouth University in March 2015. Ms French, who is trained as a teacher, said that she has always had a “keen interest” in education, adding that Falmouth’s ties with the creative industries attracted her to the position.

Queen Margaret University
A Scottish university has claimed it has launched the world’s first postgraduate degree for professional complaint handlers. Queen Margaret University said the MSc in dispute resolution has been designed to improve the handling of complaints made by consumers against businesses, and by citizens against the state. The course, which will welcome its first students in January 2015, is available as a mix of online and campus-based modules.

University of Nottingham
MPs are deluding themselves if they assume local voters exempt them from their dislike of politicians. Research by the British Election Study, based at the universities of Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford, found that only a minority of people feel slightly more positively about their local MP. Philip Cowley, a BES associate at Nottingham, said: “After years of bad press and public hostility, it’s become a bit of a comfort blanket that the animosity towards MPs is nothing personal.”

University of Surrey
The UK’s newest vet school has opened its doors. Almost 50 students have begun a five-year degree in veterinary medicine and science at the University of Surrey. The new £45 million school is one of just eight nationwide and was part funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s catalyst fund scheme. The degree is delivered in partnerships with local vet practices and the nearby Pirbright Institute for research into farm animal health.

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Music students are to sing on a charity single featuring opera stars Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe. Students and alumni from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance will form a mini-orchestra and choir when the Classic FM-organised single is recorded in London’s Air Studios on 9 October. The song will be written by composer Howard Goodall and proceeds will go towards Make Some Noise, a children’s charity sponsored by the radio station’s parent company Global.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Administrative Assistant UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Dental Clinical Skills Assistant UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Education Liaison Lead UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest