Cumbria plans to ‘mothball’ historic campus

Protests greet university’s decision to end undergraduate provision at Ambleside. Melanie Newman reports

December 5, 2009

The University of Cumbria has announced plans to close its Ambleside campus to undergraduates in a bid to save £2 million a year.

The Ambleside campus has historical significance as the site of the former Charlotte Mason College: teacher training has taken place on the site since 1892.

News of the “mothballing” sparked protests from students and a local MP this week. The University and College Union claimed that up to 200 jobs are at risk, and a 90-day consultation is now under way.

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, said the removal of undergraduate learning in the town “could be the end” for education in Ambleside, which he described as the “jewel in the university’s crown”.

“Ambleside has proven to be its most successful campus in terms of recruitment in recent years – to effectively close it is madness, as well as a huge blow to staff, students and the local economy,” he said.

A university spokeswoman said Cumbria remained committed to Ambleside, but added that current operations were not sustainable or financially viable.

The university also owns sites at Penrith, Lancaster, Whitehaven, Barrow and London. Last month it revealed that plans for a £70 million campus and headquarters at Caldew Riverside, Carlisle, had been put on hold.

The spokeswoman said Cumbria’s trading deficit for the year ending 31 July 2009 was £8.4 million.

“The figure was higher than expected due to exceptional one-off costs related to a voluntary severance scheme and consultancy fees linked to the Caldew Riverside project,” she said.

“We are required to adapt to the financial downturn and reassess our estates proposals to ensure future sustainability.”

A new business plan will be produced early next year.

The costs associated with Cumbria’s formation in 2007 from the merger of St Martin’s College in Lancaster, parts of the University of Central Lancashire and the Cumbria Institute of the Arts have contributed to the financial problems. Redundancy payments made to staff who left after the merger have increased the deficit.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has been monitoring Cumbria’s financial health for some time.

A Hefce spokesman said: “Universities are autonomous institutions responsible for their own business planning. Clearly in the case of Cumbria, previous plans needed to be revised and action needs to be taken. This is now being done.

“We will monitor the situation to help to ensure that the university takes effective action to safeguard its future.”

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