Students challenge campus closure

December 17, 1999

A group of 14 mature students is mounting a legal challenge to the possible closure of the Ripon campus of Ripon and York College.

They want to overturn the governors' decision to transfer 800 students 26 miles to York by seeking a judicial review or a High Court injunction to halt the closure - and compensation if they fail.

Ken Hart, aged 50, in his final year of a cultural studies degree, said: "We've been to a solicitor. Individual cases are being judged on their merits and will be put before the courts accordingly."

He told of a student who had sold her house in York to be near the Ripon campus only to learn that she will have to commute to York when Ripon is abandoned.

The closure has been condemned by local authorities and businesses, and 1,500 people have already signed a petition.

The dilemma facing Ripon and York raises a host of issues haunting all small institutions in an increasingly competitive sector.

Fearing it was vulnerable to takeover, the independent Christian college, which has its degrees validated by Leeds University, asked consultants to advise on a strategy for the future. They recommended consolidation on the York site. Ripon's future is still uncertain although no more courses will be taught there.

Governors who approved the recommendations last month said the driving factors were the higher expectations of students since the introduction of fees and the need to be more cost-effective.

Dianne Willcocks, college principal, said the strategy aimed to protect the quality and distinctiveness of the student experience offered by a small Christian college. "From a base in York we will be able to engage with all sorts of new partnerships and education initiatives in the city and across North Yorkshire," she said. Staff would be asked to move to York, and Professor Willcocks acknowledged the possibility of redundancies.

Profiles are being compiled of the 200 students who will be affected by the move, looking at issues such as transport, housing, childcare and timetabling. "We are working through all the issues," she said. This week a student ombudsman was appointed.

Lecturers union Natfhe is unhappy, and Ripon mayor Alan Skidmore has begun a personal crusade to reverse the process. He described the consultants' report as "totally flawed" and is trying to establish an independent report.

Yet the consultants GVA Grimley and PriceWaterhouseCoopers are unbending: "Our analysis concludes that there is no case for a stand-alone higher education campus in Ripon. The campus has an adverse perception among potential students," the report says.

"This is a powerful message," said Tricia King, head of the college's marketing unit. "We are aware of the anxiety around the impact on Ripon, but we were wasting 20 per cent of our budget, Pounds 1 million, on duplicated facilities."

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