Campus close-up: Falmouth University

A specialist multi-arts university aims to help its students to become entrepreneurial

March 13, 2014

Source: Steve Tanner

Facing west: Falmouth plays a key role in the expansion of Cornish provision

While she was studying fine art at the University of Ulster, Anne Carlisle decided to set up two publishing houses. Yet her university, she recalled, was “obsessed with the fact that I might not get a first and kept asking me why I was doing it. It is a failure of a lot of education that it is not able to respond to the innovative, entrepreneurial gene within our students while they are actually with us.”

Now vice-chancellor and chief executive at Falmouth University, she is determined that her own institution should not make the same mistake.

Granted full university status only in 2012, the institution began in 1902 as the Falmouth School of Art, and its longest-running courses – in areas such as fine art, illustration and graphics – are still based at the Woodlane campus in the town. The dramatic coastal scenery has long appealed to painters, and the university now offers Europe’s only BA in marine and natural history photography, including an underwater option.

In 2008, what had by then become University College Falmouth incorporated Dartington College of Arts, which relocated from its previous home near Totnes in Devon. It began to offer a range of courses in theatre, music, dance and (from 2013) acting, all of which are now housed in the university’s Performance Centre.

“The Dartington DNA is still writ large,” said Larry Lynch, head of the performance department, “in our commitment to new work, social justice and internationalism.” He hoped to offer students “a conservatoire-like intensity combined with liberal arts intelligence and the adventurousness of the arts school”.

Although obviously far from the centre of theatrical life in the UK, the venue has an ambitious programme of bringing in shows from outside as well as residencies for innovative companies.

Like the photography courses, the Performance Centre is located on the Penryn Campus, which opened in 2004 and was designed, Professor Carlisle said, to create “an environment where higher education would continue to flourish in Cornwall”. Although it is owned by Falmouth and three-quarters of the students come from there, the site is shared with the University of Exeter. It was also at the heart of a major expansion in higher education places within Cornwall, from 1,000 to 8,000 (around 4,000 of them Falmouth’s).

“The Cornish dimension is very important,” Professor Carlisle said. “Seventeen per cent of our undergraduates come from Cornwall and 22 per cent from the South West as a whole, and we would like to increase that because a good part of the investment in us [from the European Union, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and other sources] is about raising aspirations within Cornwall.

“But we bring in 62 per cent of our UK students from outside the region – and about 80 per cent want to stay here, which is a very atypical profile. If you can support them to do what they want, you can transform the economy. It’s about how to retain that creative talent, even though there aren’t any post-industrial warehouses around here.”

Professor Carlisle is clear that Falmouth “will remain a specialist multi-arts university and is not going to become a general university”. Yet she is also keen to “bring our creativity to other sectors such as super-fast broadband” and for “artists and designers to create interfaces to the world”.

To achieve these goals, she put in a bid for an Academy for Innovation and Research, which opened in 2012 as “a portal to the rest of the university, an incubator where ideas get cooked and connections get made”. Sustainable design and the digital economy are among the specialist areas of expertise. Courses available include a creative MBA, with a BA in business entrepreneurship to open this year.

A similar philosophy underlies the new Alacrity programme, to be piloted in the late spring, which will bring in 16 graduates from around the world. They will be divided into teams of four – typically including a content developer, someone with high-level programming skills and someone from another sector of the creative industries – and mentored as they create four new companies in the field of digital games.

Each project is “designed to answer big questions the industry can’t answer itself”, Professor Carlisle explained, “and the final product may be a long way from the original idea. It’s almost like a playpen or sandpit managed by someone who really understands the sector.”

If her own entrepreneurial instincts were somewhat stifled during her university days, Professor Carlisle now has the satisfaction of seeing students at her institution get every opportunity to spread their wings.

In numbers

22% of Falmouth undergraduates come from the South West

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