Campus close-up: Cranfield University

Head of postgraduate powerhouse Sir Peter Gregson wants to ensure doors are open to all

January 23, 2014

The recent decline in the number of UK students taking postgraduate and part-time courses is a matter of huge concern for the university sector.

However, for Cranfield University, which teaches exclusively at postgraduate level and which has many students who take courses while also in full-time employment, the issue is especially close to heart.

The Bedfordshire university welcomed a new vice-chancellor in August last year when Sir Peter Gregson joined after nine years at the helm of Queen’s University Belfast. The Cranfield chief voiced confidence that his new institution was well placed to weather the storm.

“We’re not immune to that pressure point,” he said of the falling numbers of UK postgraduate students, “and I wouldn’t want to suggest that it’s easy.”

Nevertheless, he expressed hope that the issue was being looked at, citing the Postgraduate Support Scheme. Under that programme, announced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in December, 40 universities will share a £25 million pot to develop ways to support taught postgraduate provision.

He said that Cranfield was using the “limited” funding to offer affordable loans to master’s students so as to attract those who might be deterred from studying at this level by financial constraints.

The initiative, the Cranfield Postgraduate Loan Scheme, was all about “making sure that postgraduate education doesn’t just become an opportunity for the privileged”, Sir Peter said. Up to 200 places are available over the two-year pilot, which, if successful, could help about 1,000 students over the next 10 years.

In general, he observed, there was scope in the sector for examining the principles of undergraduate student funding and “applying them to the postgraduate arena”.

“The [government’s] new framework for the funding of higher education really addressed undergraduates only – and actually only full-time undergraduates – so there are certain ‘second cousins’ in higher education,” he said. “One is the whole part-time arena, and the other is the postgraduate arena.”

A specialist university, Cranfield offers courses in eight areas: aerospace; automotive; defence and security; energy; environment; health; management; and manufacturing.

Because of the applied nature of its courses, forging strong links with business partners is central to Cranfield’s work – particularly given that in addition to its 4,500 master’s and doctoral students, it has about 20,000 students on professional development courses, many of whom are funded by their employer.

As well as a £320 million strategic partnership contract with the Ministry of Defence, the university works closely with a list of companies that reads like a Who’s Who of industry, including BAE Systems, Jaguar Land Rover, Airbus, Boeing, Unilever and Shell.

In its work with Rolls-Royce, Cranfield developed a new coating for turbines in aircraft engines that helped to cut fuel consumption by 1 per cent. “That, over an engine lifetime, is the equivalent of 14 metric tonnes of CO2 being saved,” Sir Peter explained.

Its programmes may promote strong ties to industry, but they pose a challenge when it comes to creating a healthy gender balance. Although about half of Cranfield’s students come from abroad, making it one of the most internationally diverse universities in the UK, only 23 per cent of its total student population are women.

“We of course as a university don’t have as diverse a community as we would like,” Sir Peter conceded, adding that promoting a healthy gender balance was “at the heart of what makes me tick”.

As an area where lessons could be learned that might increase the number of women pursuing careers in applied sciences, he pointed to the work of the university’s International Centre for Women Leaders, which conducted research that helped to improve female representation on the boards of the UK’s biggest companies.

“It’s certainly the case that if you’re in certain subjects you are at a disadvantage [when it comes to attracting female students],” he said.

“But there is a lot that one can do in an institution to make sure you are continuing to grow the talent pool from which you’re selecting. That’s…absolutely embedded as a priority here at Cranfield.”

In numbers

4,500 students from 100 different countries. 750 doctoral students. 3,600 master’s students.

Click here for a full podcast interview with Sir Peter Gregson

chris.parr@tsleducation.com

Campus news

University of Sheffield
A university has developed a cheap and simple technique that it hopes will greatly speed the repair of earthquake-damaged buildings. Nearly 150,000 people in Haiti are still homeless after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. But University of Sheffield scientists have discovered that damaged concrete buildings can be made capable of withstanding a major subsequent earthquake by having tensioned metal straps wrapped around each floor.

Loughborough University
An academic’s portrait of Tony Blair has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The close-up image of the former prime minister was painted by Alastair Adams, lecturer in graphic communication and illustration at Loughborough University. Mr Adams, who is also president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, has also painted former Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair, as well as former Loughborough vice-chancellor Shirley Pearce.

University of Birmingham
Birmingham will soon have its first 50m swimming pool thanks to a university development. Work will start in April on the University of Birmingham’s £55 million sports centre, which will include the new pool. The new centre, which will be open to students, staff and the wider community, is being supported by a £2 million grant from Sport England and donations from alumni and friends of the university.

University of Reading
A new dementia research centre has opened as part of a joint initiative between an NHS foundation trust and a university. The facilities at the University of Reading, run in conjunction with the Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, will allow researchers to study how diet and lifestyle can affect dementia. It will also offer patients access to possible new treatments and public health interventions through clinical trials.

University of Edinburgh
Ninety lanterns modelled on China’s famous terracotta warriors will be installed inside a Scottish university to celebrate Chinese New Year. The University of Edinburgh is hosting the figures, which are up to 2.5m tall and were designed by the Chinese artist Xia Nan for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. They will be on display to the public free of charge from 29 January to 7 February.

Newcastle University
Researchers have discovered an antioxidant that provides complete protection against the damage that sunlight can cause to DNA. Tiron protects skin cells by targeting mitochondria, scientists from Newcastle University found. They said that the discovery was an exciting one, although they cautioned that tiron was not a naturally occurring compound and had yet to be tested to ensure that it was not toxic to humans.

University of Gloucestershire
An international conference on sustainable development in higher education took place at the University of Gloucestershire on 10 and 11 January. Delegates, including representatives from the United Nations, discussed how academic institutions can improve quality of life. Part of the event focused on student leadership and was chaired by the university’s students’ union.

Royal Holloway, University of London
Zebras’ stripes protect them by having a dazzling effect on predators, scientists have found. Rather than camouflaging them, the zebras’ bold markings create optical illusions when they move, making it hard for predators to focus on an individual animal, researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, demonstrated using computer simulations. “The stripes don’t just confuse big predators like lions – biting insects like mosquitoes are affected, too,” said Johannes Zanker, from the university’s department of psychology.

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

Vice Principal DURHAM UNIVERSITY
Reader/Professor of Race and Education LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY
Professor of Teacher Education LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY

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

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

India, UK, flag

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

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