Flagship campus criticised for flaws

May 19, 2000

Problems with disabled access to Nottingham University's new Pounds 50 million campus, home of the government's flagship national school Leadership College, have emerged.

Education secretary David Blunkett said last week that he would be seeking a meeting with Nottingham's vice-chancellor to discuss provision for the disabled at the state-of-the-art campus.

"I would be deeply sorry if there were problems," he said.

Taking questions at the Association of University Teachers annual council meeting in Eastbourne last week, Mr Blunkett heard from Nottingham's AUT representative, Sandi Golbey, who said that a recent visit to the campus from a disability specialist had revealed a "catalogue of flaws" in the design.

The university confirmed this week that some problems were raised during its internal review process. A disability committee criticised signposting and, it is understood, the excessive use of glass, which causes problems for the visually impaired, and the lack of any barrier to the artificial lake at the heart of the campus.

It has also been claimed that a large number of disabled toilets are suitable only for certain types of disability, that too few of the lecture theatres have induction loops for the hard of hearing and that many of the doorways make wheelchair access difficult.

Mr Blunkett, who had just attacked universities for an unacceptable equal opportunities record, said: "The question for me is that the Leadership College does not suffer from problems of access. I will consult the new disability rights commission and we need to talk to the vice-chancellor urgently to make sure we do not fall into that trap."

The campus was opened late last year by the Queen, in the presence of Mr Blunkett, and the Leadership College is at the heart of the government's drive to raise school standards. Revealing the identity of Nottingham as the host of the college last year, prime minister Tony Blair said the decision had been made "following a lengthy selection process with some very high-quality offers".

Nottingham's vice-chancellor, Sir Colin Campbell, was unavailable this week, but he said at the launch that the campus was "utterly state-of-the-art in its architectural significance and information technology sophistication".

Ms Golbey said: "If a sympathetic issue such as access for people with disabilities is not addressed, how seriously can we expect the vice chancellors to tackle the less attractive issues such as sexism and racism?

"My main reason for raising the point with David Blunkett was that vice-chancellors are generally not good at observing their moral obligations unless they're made to. This is a symptom of a general malaise."

Nottingham's pro vice-chancellor, David Greenaway, said the problems raised in the internal disability committee report were already being acted upon. But other criticisms were "ill-informed" he said.

"When I signed off the brief I was sure we had surpassed the statutory requirements rather than just meeting them. That does not mean to say that one gets everything absolutely right first time," he said.

He said that Mr Blunkett had not contacted the university.

THES Diary, page 18

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