Campus close-up: University Campus Suffolk

UCS is finalising plans to become a fully fledged university

June 5, 2014

Source: Alamy

Affirmative response: the institution’s head says that gaining university status is ‘what the community needed and wanted’

“Suffolk nearly boasted one of the great educational establishments in the country,” according to Richard Lister, provost and chief executive of University Campus Suffolk, the higher education institution run in partnership by the universities of Essex and East Anglia.

“Cardinal Wolsey was an Ipswich lad, and was founding a great college here which was just about built when he fell from grace. The college was never inhabited by scholars, and was torn down stone by stone, with those stones being sent to London to build Whitehall.”

Some 500 years later, the county is finally on the road to establishing its own university. In the spring of last year, UCS announced that it had begun the process of gaining its own degree-awarding powers, and last month the Quality Assurance Agency’s Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers agreed to proceed to a detailed scrutiny of its bid for independence.

It would then be in a position to apply for university title, with the University of Suffolk the current preferred moniker, reflecting its network of colleges across the county, in Bury St Edmunds, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, Lowestoft and Otley. If its bid is successful, it will become the first independent university in Suffolk with the power to award its own degrees. UCS degrees are currently jointly validated by its two partner institutions – something that can cause problems, particularly for international students.

“Becoming a university would simplify some processes,” Mr Lister said. “Working with two universities, although it can be helpful, means satisfying the processes of two separate institutions, which adds layers of complexity.

“And there are practical things. We have a real problem recruiting international students from some parts of the world where the concept of receiving a degree from two institutions is not recognised,” he continued. “A degree from UEA or Essex is perfectly acceptable, but a degree from both is not.”

Simple things such as drop-down boxes on online application forms asking students where they got their degree often fail to accommodate an institution with two awarding bodies, he said. “University status would allow us access to more markets internationally,” he added.

The timescale for gaining independence from UEA and Essex is unclear, although when the plans were announced in March last year, a statement from UCS said it was “likely to take a significant period of time”, with completion by “the summer of 2015 at the earliest”.

However, the institution has already made changes to its governing board to reflect the fact that it wishes to move away from its two custodians. UEA and Essex used to have majority control, but this is no longer the case.

Just five of the current 17-strong board are affiliated to the two universities, with other members including the chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council and the group director of Anglian Water.

“We had reached a size and a self-confidence that suggested we should be branching out on our own,” Mr Lister said, adding that UEA and Essex’s “role as midwives” overseeing the birth of UCS had “run its course”.

UCS, which first opened its doors to students in 2007, is now focusing on fundraising with the launch of its Giving to UCS campaign.

It is hoped that the initiative will allow the institution to expand its Futures Fund, which has three main priorities: to increase its range of scholarships, to improve student support, and to develop facilities and resources across UCS.

“We hope that by successfully fundraising now, we can create foundations that will continue to make an impact for many years to come, supporting UCS as it moves to become the University of Suffolk,” said Polly Bridgman, director of external relations at UCS.

For Mr Lister, one of the most important aspects of the UCS bid for university status is to repay the faith (and money) invested in his institution by local people.

“As we were being set up, we got funding from various places, but particularly Suffolk and Ipswich councils,” he said. “A lot of local money came into this institution and we all feel we have a responsibility to pay that back by delivering what the community needed and wanted – its own university.”

In numbers

5,001 students in 2012-13, 79 per cent of them full time

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