Wolsey's dream coming true

UNIVERSITY Campus Suffolk is to welcome its first students later this year, but just two years ago it was an idea that had yet to get off the ground.

UNIVERSITY Campus Suffolk (UCS) is to welcome its first students later this year, but just two years ago UCS was an idea that had yet to get off the ground. Today that draem is becoming concrete, as building work gets well underway. JAMES MARSTON asks business operations manager Carol Macaskill about the birth of an institution.

THE idea of building a university in Ipswich was first thought up by Ipswich's most famous son, Cardinal Wolsey, back in the first half of the 16th century.

But in the late 1520s Thomas Wolsey's career took a nosedive when he fell foul of his master Henry VIII's love interest Anne Boylen. In 1529 Thomas Wolsey died and his plans to establish a university college in his home town died with him.

And it was not until the 1960s the idea of a university resurfaced. Ever since then, civic leaders have now and again mooted the idea, suggested various sites and given their approval to plans to make Ipswich a university town. But nothing concrete ever happened, the lack of political will, the wrong timing, no money, something always got in the way. But in 2004 all that changed when the idea was revived and Carol started work as project manager in June.

Working from a desk and phone supplied by Ipswich Borough Council, Carol was on her own for the first six months. She said: “My main job was to communicated between the various organisations involved with the project. It was my job to reassure them UCS would happen.”

But whether or not the university would ever get off the ground was something Carol could not be sure about. Back then it was little more than an idea in the making.

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She said: “There was a lot of scepticism. There had been previous attempts to get a university here but they had all failed. UCS was a serious proposition and it was my job to convince everyone and coordinate that ambition.”

Six months into the project Carol moved this time sharing an office with the Learning and Skills Council in Felaw Maltings. Carol said: “We didn't know what UCS would look like, but we carried on. We put together costings and a budget and projected student numbers and began marketing the idea to the public.”

Slowly the university team began to grow. Led by the universities of East Anglia and Essex, the UCS is supported by Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council and the East of England Development Agency (EEDA).

Carol said: “We grew to half a dozen people while we were at Felaw Maltings. We started to build relationships with the colleges across the county which are part of UCS and we concentrated on building the partnerships behind the project.

“Land on the Waterfront had already been earmarked for UCS.”

In February 2005 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) pledged £15million towards UCS. A milestone had been reached and UCS was taking ever closer steps towards reality.

Carol said: “We had already been pledged £13m by Suffolk County Council and the HEFCE announcement was one of the highlights of 2005.

“We were hoping for £10 or £12m and we were delighted to get the full amount. It was the largest single payment from HEFCE's strategy development fund and it really put UCS on the map. It was also an approval of the confidence the partner organisations had shown in the project.”

With £28m of backing, UCS was becoming a sizeable project.

Carol said: “The real turning point came in September 2005 with the third major contribution into the UCS project.

“EEDA agreed to a £12.5m contribution plus land worth £5m for the new education quarter. This gave us the money needed to build a building and really get the project started.”

Appointing architects, setting up an executive team - the university needed more staff and Carol was joined by UCS operations manager Richard Lister in December 2005 and in January 2006 UCS chief executive Bob Anderson joined the team.

Carol said: “We were spreading the word about UCS and we quickly appointed a student recruitment officer who we sent out to all the secondary schools in Suffolk.”

After press conferences, public meetings and business breakfasts, the university was beginning to get into the minds of the public.

In 2006 the team expanded further. Carol said: “We began to develop the curriculum and develop UCS as a going concern. It has been as big challenge to bring everything together but there is a huge level of interest in UCS now and it has grown as the project has grown.”

Today UCS employs 30 people from its current HQ in St Edmunds House, in Rope Walk.

Carol said: “It has been really rewarding to see the changes as the project has developed. It's been a bit like having a growing family and the more staff we have employed the more people have been able to specialise into certain areas.”

Attracting people from across the UK keen to be involved in a project from the beginning, Carol said the university has recruited some high calibre professionals.

She said: “UCS is a real opportunity for people to make a change and be involved in a unique project.”

University Campus Suffolk is due to open its doors to students in September 2007.

Costing and estimated £150million over the next ten years UCS, land has already been set aside for the project and UCS, plus a new Suffolk College, will create an 'education quarter' stretching from Rope Walk to the Ipswich Waterfront.

Expected to be worth £1 million a week to the Ipswich economy, UCS will include the Ipswich campus and a number of linked centres in other Suffolk towns.

The UCS curriculum has more than 160 courses.

N Autumn 2002- Officials from the University of East Anglia and University of Essex meet with Suffolk College bosses to discuss a collaborative approach to extending higher education in Suffolk.

N Spring 2003-Suffolk County Council revived ambitions for a university in the county. The council established a group made up from the interested parties.

N January 2004-HEFCE awarded £245,000 of funding to produce a business case for the UCS scheme

N Spring 2004-Ipswich Borough Council agreed a £10million contribution towards land purchases for the project.

N June 2004-The UCS website www.ucs.ac.uk was launched at the Suffolk Show.

N September 2004-Discussions take place with education and business leaders about the UCS curriculum.

N November 2004-The plans gain pace as Suffolk County Council pledges £13 million to buy the land needed for the main campus in Ipswich.

N December 2004-The UCS project team submits a bid to HEFCE for £15 million of funding.

N February 2005 HEFCE grant £15m towards the project.

N September 2005 EEDA grant a further £12.5million to the UCS project.

N January 2005 UCS Chief Executive Bob Anderson is appointed.

N February 2006-Launch of UCS brand.

N March 2006-Treasury rubber stamps £12.5m EEDA grant.

N April 2006-Launch of UCS prospectus.

N June 2006-Suffolk Show UCS presentation.

PILING is due to start in the next few weeks at the UCS waterfront site.

With work already underway on the £20m building, UCS is now beginning to make its physical presence felt in the town.

Carol said: “We are now beginning fundraising for phase two of the project. Phase two includes a new building on Orwell Quay.

“We weren't over successful in getting private investment into phase one of the project but I think that is because business likes to see tangible results before they invest.

“In 18 months from now we will have a UCS building teaming with students and business leaders will be able to see what has happened and that UCS is up and running.

“We will no longer be selling and idea but an institution instead.”

Hoping to raise an estimated£55m, UCS executive team are expecting to secure funding mostly from the public sector, including organisations like HEFCE and EEDA that have already pledged their support to the development.

Carol said: “It would be great to secure 10pc of funding from the private sector.”

Though initially sharing accommodation with the current Suffolk College, it is now just 17 weeks to go before UCS opens its doors to its first students.

April 2007 - setting up of UCS estates department to help with student's accommodation needs.

April-September 2007 - development of UCS Student Union.

August 2007-Offical Laucnh of UCS.

September 2007-First students to enrol at UCS.

Autumn 2008-Planned opening of first UCS building on Ipswich Waterfront.

WHILE today's staff picture is a significant step forward, it only represents a fraction of those involved in our organisation.

At the splendid Galleria at Ipswich Town Football Club the previous Friday we held our first staff development day, and closed the event with 250 people - which is probably more than we could comfortably cope with and many others were disappointed not to be there.

It was a really successful day, and it was the first time that the academic staff have been able to get together and discuss the way forward for their departments, the new curriculum and research opportunities and how they link to business and the commercial world.

So why the difference between the 30 or so who gathered on the Waterfront and the hundreds attending the event in the same week? It is the way we are set up and developing - and for many staff this means a great deal of change in the coming months.

The largest group of University Campus Suffolk staff will be those who join us in August 2007 from Suffolk College. These are Higher Education staff - those people who currently teach university level courses. These staff will leave Suffolk College and become UCS employees.

Staff at Suffolk College teaching further education courses will remain at the college - which will be renamed Suffolk New College. In addition, our conference was also attended by those teaching university level courses at our University Centres in Bury St Edmunds, Otley, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth which are an integral part of our organisation.

So in the week when I realised to my astonishment that I have been working on UCS for nearly four years, and for the first couple of years we had a team of just two, suddenly it is all taking shape and becoming real.

And at last it is developing from a plan about money, buildings, constitution and organisational structures into a true university with academic debate, a focus on scholarship and a realisation that in a very short space of time we will be full of students and the real work will actually start.

I seem to have been trailing this for months but I can finally report that building work has started on the Waterfront campus. We are running only a week or two behind the schedule that we outlined sometime early in 2006 so that is a real success and it means that we are looking for completion - on schedule - in August next year with students studying there from the following month.

I am constantly surprised at the speed that buildings go up using modern building techniques; the pace of change is truly remarkable. We are hoping to have a webcam on the site as soon as there is anything to see above ground - so watch the Evening Star for the weblink and you can see just how fast this gets off the ground!

Readers may have seen press reports about the high level of applications to UCS in its first year of operation and so far we are very pleased with the number of potential students who are looking to join us in September.

If you are interested in the possibility of becoming a student this year or next year, we are holding an open event next Thursday April 12 - details are available from Claire Marrington on 01473-251166 or via the website ucs.ac.uk We are already recruiting for the following year and I should give advance notice of the major HE recruitment fair for Suffolk which will be held at Trinity Park (formerly the Suffolk Showground) on June 27 where you can talk to us about becoming a UCS student - this year, next year or sometime in the future, Come along and talk to us!

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