University of the year

November 26, 2007

Exeter University. Exeter University has always had a lot going for it: academic reputation, one of the UK's most picturesque campuses and social cachet.

So when Steve Smith became vice-chancellor in 2002 and launched rapidly into a major restructuring of the university, some may have been tempted to advise: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Five years on and £140 million later, the changes have resulted in Exeter nearly doubling in size, and have helped the institution secure its reputation as a university that is going places.

Three main ventures caught the eyes of our judges, Baroness Kennedy, the barrister and Labour peer, Bernadette Porter CBE, former rector of Roehampton University, and Gerard Kelly, editor of The Times Higher.

First is the university's Cornwall Campus, near Falmouth, from which the first cohort of students graduated this year. Delivering much-needed higher education opportunities to people in the far west, the campus is located 100 miles away from Exeter's main site. It was a joint initiative with University College Falmouth and is part of the wider Combined Universities in Cornwall project, which also involves Plymouth University and other higher and further education institutions.

Another partnership also came good. The Peninsula Medical School, a joint venture with Plymouth University set up in 2002, last year awarded degrees to the first cohort of its students.

Finally, there is the £14 million Great Western Research project - led by Exeter and involving all the South West's higher education institutions - which has boosted postgraduate development in the region. So far money has been committed to provide 74 PhD studentships and 20 three-year research fellowships.

Porter said: "Exeter impressed me greatly, as the three projects are a good mixture of widening participation, institutional collaboration and research development. It celebrates three very diverse kinds of achievement."

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