Being sent to Coventry has always meant either being given the cold shoulder or taking a trip to the West Midlands. However, it could soon entail a stay in any number of English higher education’s “cold spots”.
According to Ian Dunn, deputy vice-chancellor at Coventry University, his institution aims to open “four or five” new campuses in underserved areas, using the “high quality, low cost” model it pioneered at Coventry University College.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England, led by former Coventry vice-chancellor Madeleine Atkins, was asked by the government last year to pinpoint cold spots so existing universities could address them. Recently announced plans for a university in Hereford could improve provision in the Welsh borders, and Professor Dunn said he was talking to “three or four” local authorities in some of the cold spots identified by Hefce, which include the East and South West, Cumbria, Humberside and North Yorkshire.
The last of these is home to Coventry’s first confirmed venture, in Scarborough. The city has hosted a 1,500-student branch campus of the University of Hull since 2000, but Hull announced last year that it wanted another institution to take over and develop a “Scarborough-centric higher education offer”.
Coventry proposed to turn it into a university college that, while remaining wholly owned by the institution, would ultimately develop its own locally relevant curriculum, gain degree-awarding powers and become the University of Scarborough.
But last November, Hull chose Hull College Group as its preferred bidder. According to Professor Dunn, Scarborough Borough Council “wasn’t happy”, as it wanted “a full HE offer”. It invited Coventry to build a campus on a new site alongside a Hull-sponsored university technical college and a “sports and leisure village”.
Coventry agreed, as it had already built strong links in the area and was committed to expanding its “highly successful” university college model into cold spots, as well as online. The adjacent sports facilities were also a draw, as was Scarborough’s potential to be “very attractive” to international students.
Earlier this month, the former head of the Hull branch campus, Craig Gaskell, was named founding provost of Coventry University Scarborough Campus, which will cost about £12 million to build and will house 5,000 students within “six to eight” years. Until the new building opens in September 2016, some 350 students will be taught in rented “Scarborough landmarks”.
“Coventry is in very good financial shape,” Professor Dunn said. “We believe this is an appropriate investment [that] will return surpluses [that will] allow us to do lots more of these things.”
Hull College Group has also officially launched its University Campus Scarborough, described as a “strategic partnership” with Hull. Programmes, “designed in consultation with local employers”, include Higher National Diplomas in engineering, construction, health and social care, and business-related courses. Hull-accredited undergraduate and postgraduate degrees will be offered from next year.
Coventry’s campus will also offer, among other things, engineering, health and social care and business. Professor Dunn said there had been no efforts to coordinate curricula. “We are investing heavily in a town which has real promise; there is no way we are going to limit ourselves on what we offer.”
So from being one of England’s cold spots, Scarborough could end up feeling distinctly balmy.