Dithering and confusion at the University of the West of England

by Alex
on Tuesday 15 May 2012

type: News Report
topic: Miscellaneous
region: Bristol

In 2009 the university announced that it planned to move the outlying Glenside, St Matthias and Bower Ashton campuses up to Frenchay onto land recently purchased from neighbours Hewlett Packard.  This would take place over a period of 15 years or more with the first closure being that of St Matthias campus in 2012.  A master-planning exercise was set up with several rounds of consultation.

It was planned to build a new media centre to accommodate St Matthias activities in a former Hewlett Packard warehouse, Building 2.  Plans were drawn up and the move was planned to take place in September 2012.  Building work was due to begin in November 2011.  Then abruptly in July 2011, ‘Tiny’ Alex Gilkinson, the dean of the faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education announced that this would not now happen, but that instead Bower Ashton campus would be moved up to Frenchay in 2015.  As part of this it emerged that Journalism (currently at St Matthias) and Filmmaking and Creative Media (currently at Bower Ashton) would move up to a new “Media Hub” at Frenchay as from September 2012.  Plans for this new “modular” building were submitted in February 2012, with many objections from residents on the Creswicke estate adjacent to the UWE campus.  

Then in another abrupt change of direction a decision was made in May 2012 to cancel the media hub project (despite it receiving planning permission on 14 May).  Now Journalism and Media and Cultural Studies (re-branded as Media Culture Practice) would be moved to Bower Ashton.  Bower Ashton would be kept open and St Matthias closed in September 2013.  Students on Joint Honours course would now face the prospect of studying at both Bower Ashton and St Matthias or Frenchay, on opposite sides of the city.

Best estimates are that over £3,000,000 has been spent in consultants fees, planning fees and architects costs for these abortive projects.  An unknown amount of money will have to be spent on temporary buildings and refurbishments at Bower Ashton to accommodate an estimated additional 400+ students.  And the work will have to be done between now and September.

Meanwhile, university Vice Chancellor Steve West announced a “ground-breaking” agreement with Bristol Rovers FC to build a new football stadium with a capacity of up to 25,000 on the former Hewlett Packard estate. Rovers currently languish in League Two (the old fourth division) with average gates of around 6,000, so why the massive increase in capacity is warranted is unclear.  West trousered an additional 2.4% pay increase in 2010/11 bringing his salary and pensions contribution up to £266,000.  Meanwhile UWE staff faced an imposed 0.5% pay increase.  Nice work when you can get it, eh Steve.  Makes you wonder what the governors of UWE think about all of this.