University of Arts has an instant imitator

May 7, 2004

The launch this week of Britain's first university of the arts was followed immediately by proposals for another, as Kent Institute of Art and Design and the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College announced plans to merge.

The University of the Arts London, formerly the London Institute, celebrated its new title with dinner on Tuesday for 400 guests and famous alumni at Tate Modern in London. The official inauguration ceremony is due to take place on May 11 at London's Banqueting House.

Governors at the Kent and Surrey institutes, whose alumni include fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, Turner prize nominee Tracey Emin and television interior designer Linda Barker, have agreed to develop a business plan to form the new institution and gain university status by 2006-07.

The university would accommodate about 6,500 students spread over five campuses.

Vaughan Grylls, director of Kent, said he hoped it would be possible to add another campus and increase numbers to about 8,000 within five years.

Most of the extra numbers would come through expansion of access courses, foundation degrees, postgraduate and research degrees and recruitment of more overseas students, he said.

Professor Grylls added that in the long term he hoped the university would form the basis for a bigger federal arts institution.

The idea of a large federal university of the arts was considered but rejected by the UK Arts and Design Institutions Association, which Professor Grylls chairs.

He said: "That is not the initial intention of this proposed merger, but as far as I am concerned I am still enthusiastic about that idea.

"Clearly, having a set-up such as this alongside the university of the arts name will provide an opportunity for the institution to consider a relationship with other arts institutions that could be federally based."

The university is likely to maintain the two institutes' "mixed-economy" make-up, with about a third of courses offered at further education level.

Professor Grylls said this, and the fact that the university would maintain several campuses, would help it to fulfil its widening participation goals and to keep in touch with the creative industries spread across the region.

He said: "It makes more sense to have a distributed system than to have one big campus that everyone has to travel to. Some might say it's expensive running several campuses, but we have a great deal of experience doing that, and I think together we could run it more cost-effectively."

Both institutions are beginning internal consultation on the plans, which will also be considered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Department for Education and Skills and the Quality Assurance Agency at a meeting on June 9.

Professor Grylls said the most likely route to creating the university would be to legally dissolve the Kent institute and merge it with Surrey, which has taught degree-awarding powers.

Elaine Thomas, director of Surrey, said: "By combining forces, we can affect much that will shape and influence specialist art and design education."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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