Farewell to Luton, hello Bedfordshire

December 23, 2005

A merger to create a new institution for Bedfordshire has signalled the end of Luton University in its present form.

Les Ebdon, Luton's vice-chancellor, signed an agreement last week to buy De Montfort University's Bedford campus to create a new institution for the region next year.

Professor Ebdon said the working title, and his preferred option, was the University of Bedfordshire. But he said market research would be undertaken to establish a shortlist of three titles that will then go out to consultation.

Professor Ebdon said that the name "Luton" could survive as part of a new title. Final approval rests with the Privy Council.

"I am sure there will be people in Luton who will be very keen to retain the name Luton," he said.

"But this does give us a fabulous opportunity for a new university for Bedfordshire. We are very much focused on the future and not the past."

Professor Ebdon acknowledged that Luton had suffered bad press in the past, including stories about its degree standards. But he denied that the desire to change the name was driven by market pressure to drop the Luton brand.

"While people may think there is an issue with the name Luton in the UK, it sells well overseas. We have the third-highest concentration of overseas students in the UK at Luton," he said.

The new university will be created officially in August 2006, when De Montfort will hand over its Faculty of Education and Contemporary Studies in Bedford. It is hoped that the Privy Council will have approved a new title in time for the handover.

Much of De Montfort's provision in Bedford is initial teacher training, making it a valuable addition to the portfolio of subjects currently offered by Luton. In taking over the Bedford campus, Luton stands to gain 250 staff and an extra 3,000 students, taking total numbers at the new institution to about 18,000.

The new university will focus on providing undergraduate and postgraduate education to meet regional needs, with courses in business, education and health.

It is also hoped that it will be able to cash in on the 2012 Olympics, with centres of excellence in media and sport at both the Bedford and Luton campuses.

Professor Ebdon said no staff would lose their jobs as a result of the merger and there would be no moves to close the campuses in Bedford. A review of buildings and facilities at the existing Luton campus is to take place.

Professor Ebdon said that Luton staff were "signed up to the vision" but he would have to persuade Bedford staff to buy into it.

"I am confident that they will. It offers them a real opportunity to take the best of both institutions and put them together," he said.

Martin Ward Fletcher, chairman of the Bedford branch of Natfhe, said:

"People are apprehensive of the changes, but no one is jumping up and down and saying, 'over my dead body'."

Neither Professor Ebdon, who will head the new institution, nor his counterpart at De Montfort, Philip Tasker, disclosed the sum paid for Bedford campus.

Professor Tasker said the new university would be an important development for the region.

"The high quality of academic provision and excellent reputation built here over a number of years will play a significant role in the success of the new university - an institution that will build on existing strengths so that it is in the best position to serve the future needs of the region," he said.

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