Criticism is building concerning UCL’s bid to potentially create a new campus in Newham, East London.
Director of UCL Estates, Andrew Grainger, commented upon the promise of the project: “The scale of the site we are looking at – over 20 acres – in central London terms is incredible. And the fact that it will be adjacent to the Olympic Park is a significant attraction. The government has invested hugely in the area, and the Olympic Park will be fabulous.”
The plans have been met with concern from members of UCL staff, however, and have provoked debate elsewhere in the media. Academics have expressed fear that the second campus will lower UCL’s reputation as an institution as it will cause a breakdown in communication between researchers, staff and departments as a whole, and entry grade requirements may be lowered.
Simon Renton, Vice-President of the University and College Union and lecturer in the UCL History department, explained: “Having everything concentrated close together has a whole number of advantages, such as encouraging communication between people in different disciplines. Geography means students and staff are more in touch with each other, so in that respect moves away from Bloomsbury are generally not something people are very keen on.”
Peter Scott, Professor of higher education at the Institute of Education, also remarked upon potential difficulties in replicating the UCL brand given its current association with Bloomsbury: “All universities have their own habitats; they are ‘places’. That atmosphere and ethos are not always easy to reproduce.”
The debate has also gained attention from Malcolm Gillies, Chair of London Higher: “London has a more vibrant demographic than many other parts of Britain, so it is not unusual that people would look to come there – particularly if they have a good-quality educational product – to secure student numbers.” He also warned, however, that the two campuses could create fierce competition for staff at the expense of students’ education.
The principle of UCL’s operating in different spaces across London has been defended by Grainger, however, as an increasingly popular practice that has been successfully implemented by several other global institutions.
The Bloomsbury Masterplan was first announced in November, and contained details of expansion plans and the management of UCL’s Estate. It also revealed a £500m development strategy for a site in Newham next to the Olympic park, as a second campus for the university.
The Masterplan was put together following the publishing of the ‘White Paper’ in September 2011, in which UCL Provost Prof Malcolm Grant discussed UCL’s need to expand beyond the current Bloomsbury campus as part of a potential 10-year development plan. He stated: “Not all activity currently based in central London requires such a location, nor is it possible for much of it to expand in its existing space”.
The new campus would feature state-of-the-art buildings and facilities for subjects such as engineering, which would benefit from a more modern campus, as well as housing for both students and staff. The new accommodation would also be more affordable compared to what is currently on offer in central London.
The space that could be utilised is another advantage—at 23 acres, the site would provide UCL with expansion potential that would be otherwise impossible in central London. The proximity of the new campus to the Olympic Park would also allow UCL to be part of the Olympic legacy, and create connections with other growing enterprises in East London.
Birkbeck College will also be opening in Stratford in Autumn 2013, with a new campus that will be entitled ‘University Square’ in a joint venture with the University of East London.