Coastal college changeover

October 20, 1995

The University College Scarborough swapped its allegiance from Leeds University to York this week in a move which reflects the sea change in relations between universities and their colleges.

George MacDonald Ross, the college's academic dean, said York was nearer to the college both physically and psychologically. "Our staff and students already use York for shopping and cultural purposes. It will be so much easier to share resources."

But underlying the change are pressures that have recently brought about a wave of mergers, associations, affiliations, franchises and other new kinds of arrangements between colleges and universities.

"There is a feeling of insecurity among many institutions, and serious worries about the marketability of higher education," said Mr Macdonald Ross. Safety was to be found in numbers.

The former North Yorkshire teacher training college has steadily been transformed since its inception in 1948 as the North Riding Training College. In 1991 it gained full faculty status from Leeds University after a long partnership and since then has been extending its degree programmes.

The new relationship with York University made strategic sense, according to Mr Macdonald Ross, as the two organisations were already developing joint projects in teaching and research.

He said York was a collegiate university which would easily accommodate a university college and strengthen higher education in North Yorkshire as a result.

The college plans to focus on coastal management and conservation. Course leader David Tucker says that within an hour's drive from the college are classic examples of all aspects of coastal scenery and also its damage and deterioration.

After uncontrollable erosion caused Scarborough's Holbeck Hall Hotel to fall into the sea last year, public consciousness of the fragility of Britain's coastlines was raised. Spurn Head is also soon likely to disappear into the Humber estuary, which itself suffers from crippling industrial pollution.

This century has seen increasing pressure on Britain's coastline, the second longest of any European Union country after Greece. During the 1960s it was estimated that Britain lost as much as six miles of coastline a year to development, according to Mr Tucker.

Yet that coastline affects so many parts of the national psyche - personal and public, working and recreational, defensive, artistic, historic and aesthetic, he said.

Coastal management lecturer Sunil Shastri believes that the wider political scene must be understood to resolve the many conflicting demands being made on our coasts and estuaries not only from housing, tourism and recreation, but also from mineral extraction, waste disposal, coastal defence and wildlife protection.

Three-quarters of the world's population live in coastal environments and the recent ratification by 60 countries of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provided a philosophical and practical framework for the college's new focus on research and teaching, says Dr Shastri. An early coup for the college is to host the Marine Forum for Environmental Issues, which was formerly based at the Natural History Museum in London.

The forum brings together groups with conflicting interests in environmental issues. The next meeting will see Shell and Greenpeace on the same platform to thrash out the painful lessons learnt on both sides following the Brent Spar fiasco earlier this year.

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