UWE to launch 'skills' campus

September 14, 2007

The University of the West of England is to develop a new campus in Swindon that is designed for and by local businesses.

UWE has signed an agreement with Swindon Borough Council to develop a business case for a campus to take to funding agencies by the end of March 2008.

The proposed campus will offer up to 3,000 students UWE-accredited courses designed to boost their skills in the workplace and allow them to learn while at work.

John Rushforth, UWE deputy vice-chancellor, said: "UWE will retain full control over academic quality and standards." The new institution, he said, "would not be just another outpost of UWE - it will be something quite different".

Courses will range from modules to full degrees and focus on the strengths of the local economy: engineering, financial services, information technology and health and social care.

Professor Rushforth added: "UWE has a lot of modular courses, so if employers want bite-sized chunks we can do that. We may provide liaison people for individual employers. The details are still hazy. We will set up mechanisms for agreements spanning several years depending on investment."

Bill Cotton, director of economic and cultural development at Swindon Borough Council, said: "Course provision will be driven by local needs. For instance, Honda and BMW suffer from recruitment problems in terms of engineers, so they may want to recruit those, as well as improving the skills of their existing workforce."

Mr Cotton added that the council would be talking to employers about financial contributions to the new institution's development.

Bath University pulled out of plans for a campus in Swindon focused on traditional full-time undergraduates earlier this year. Bath's vice-chancellor cited the move in government priorities for higher education towards increased opportunities for part-time study while at work.

"It makes perfect sense for us; we already do a lot of work with employers," said Professor Rushforth, pointing to UWE's links with Motorola and the National Health Service.

Rikki Hunt, chairman of the Swindon Strategic Economic Partnership, said: "There are more than 150 universities in the UK, so our intention is to create something distinctive that's not available elsewhere.

"We can't be certain yet about the exact nature of the university until we've carried out the detailed assessment and understand exactly what employers are prepared to support," he said.

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