The University of East London is set to open Britain's newest university campus on a patch of for-
merly derelict land.
The Pounds 40 million Docklands Campus, the first to be built in the capital for more than 50 years, is a brave step. It comes when there has been a hiccup, which many blame on the deterrent effects of tuition fees, in university expansion.
The campus is testimony to UEL's faith in continued long-term growth in higher education. It also makes concrete the econ-
omic changes since the second world war. Industrial and mercantile activity has collapsed and a new knowledge-based economy is rising from the rubble.
Vice-chancellor Frank Gould said: "When the scheme was conceived in 1992 higher education was expanding rapidly. We could never have predicted that tuition fees would be imposed, which may or may not be contributing to the current blip, especially in
mature students. However, a Pounds 40 million project is a long-term project, and I am confident that
demand will grow."
Situated at the east end of the mile-long Victorian Royal Albert Dock, once Europe's largest, the campus buildings, which will open in September, stick out like a sore thumb on the dockside.
Only by looking west does one appreciate the bigger picture. Beyond the dock the shiny, high-rise blocks at Canary Wharf look for all the world like the commercial centre of an American city.
The entire area from Canary Wharf to the new campus and beyond is part of one of Europe's largest regeneration areas. Within this, the UEL campus is the biggest civic redevelopment project.
Its location enabled the university to secure most of its costs from sources other than the higher education budget. Cash came from the government's single regeneration challenge fund, the Peabody Trust, Greater London Enterprise, the Ford Motor Company (linked to UEL for over 60 years) and from the university.
Redevelopment money was forthcoming because of UEL's commitment to the economic regeneration of east London. The university will be able to sell other property thanks to the move.
Central to operations will be the Thames Gateway Technology Centre. This will support start-up businesses and graduate employability by tapping into the resources of UEL working in partnership with London Guildhall and Queen Mary and Westfield College.
Professor Gould said: "I suppose that it is surprising that a university which would normally depend on capital funding within the higher education system should have raised so much money from other sources. It shows what can be done, if there is the will."
Within a few years the campus should be at the heart of a thriving commercial hub as more buildings grow around it. Construction of the country's largest exhibition centre is likely to start soon at the opposite end of the dock and a new business/science park may be built in the gap between.
Any sense of isolation belies the good transport links to the new UEL campus. It sits beside an arterial road and has its own station, Cyprus, on the Docklands Light Railway. It is also just across the dock from London City Airport, making triple glazing a necessity.
Transport will prove crucial. There are five drum-shaped halls of residence, each for 80 students. Yet the campus will cater for 2,400 students, so most will live elsewhere. On top of this there will be 200 staff. The university is trying to encourage staff and students to use public transport rather than their cars.
A second-phase expansion is planned on site when the univer-
sity can raise the cash.
Eventually, said Professor Gould, it will become the university's main campus. It will, however, retain its existing campuses at Barking and Stratford to maintain local access for students.