Paisley plumps for new image

November 2, 2006

Managers say 'University of the West of Scotland' will improve competitiveness, reports Olga Wojtas

Paisley has emerged as the latest university to seek a name change, joining a steady stream of institutions that recognise the importance of the right brand image in the higher education market.

Paisley's governing body has opted for "University of the West of Scotland". The rationale is that Paisley hopes to merge with Bell College in nearby Hamilton, and already has campuses in Ayr and Dumfries.

A spokesperson said the court had considered the "strategic context" for a change of name, in particular its merger plans, further development of its Ayr and Dumfries campuses and continuing commitment to its Paisley campus.

Principal Seamus McDaid said: "If agreed, our name change and proposed merger with Bell College will further strengthen our position within the context of a stronger, more sustainable, regional university that occupies a better competitive position in UK and international higher education markets."

Commentators have noted that the proposed name has the advantage of conjuring up an attractive, bucolic image of rolling hills and sea. The town of Paisley is often lambasted in the press for violent crime and a down-at-heel centre.

Robert Mighall, senior consultant at university branding specialists Lloyd Northover, said that Paisley could be on the right track for greater student recognition. International students, in particular, may have no idea where Paisley is but will hopefully have positive images of Scotland.

"Research has found that after (potential students) decide what course they want to do, they then decide where they want to go. It's the second most important thing. If people don't know where you are, you really do lose out," Dr Mighall said.

He added that while there was a risk of brand confusion following a name change, jettisoning a title with less favourable connotations was generally a good idea.

Luton University, dogged by bad publicity, rebranded itself Bedfordshire University this year. Patricia Murchie, Bedfordshire's director of marketing, insisted that Luton was a "fantastically exciting" name.

But she admitted that the renaming, a condition of the merger with De Montfort University's Bedford campus, was useful in reflecting that its three campuses spanning the county.

Bedfordshire was one of three shortlisted options and was chosen by a resounding majority of the hundreds of staff, students and local organisations canvassed.

"I think they felt it represented what they perceive as their local university," Ms Murchie said.

But Paisley may yet find out that the process of choosing a new name is often far from straight-forward.

When a wave of polytechnics became universities in 1992, proposals for City of London University and City University Nottingham were vetoed on the grounds of confusion with the existing universities of London and Nottingham.

Anglia Polytechnic University fought a long battle to change its name in the face of a hardline stance by the neighbouring University of East Anglia, which was anxious to protect its successful brand.

olga.wojtas@thes.co.uk

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

* It was third time lucky for Glasgow Caledonian University. It initially wanted to be Queen's University Glasgow, but this was vetoed by Queen's University Belfast. Its next choice, Glasgow Merchants, was vetoed by students objecting that many Glasgow merchants made their fortunes through slavery and the tobacco trade.

* York University in Toronto, founded in 1959, was aghast when four years later, a 200-student university in northern England wanted to use its name. The Canadian institution failed to prevent the duplication.

* New Zealand's Canterbury University in Christchurch was reportedly upset by the prospect of a Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK, but did not prevent it taking the title in July 2005.

* When Oxford Polytechnic was seeking a change, one tongue-in-cheek suggestion was "The Concise Oxford University".

* When Leicester Polytechnic was renamed De Montfort University in 1992, there were protests on the grounds of Simon de Montfort's brutality in the Albigensian Crusade. But the university said it was named after his son, Simon, who was credited with establishing the first English Parliament.

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