A UNIVERSITY is moving into Tunbridge Wells and will soon be offering degree courses for working professionals.
The new project will be providing apprenticeships in line with current government requirements. However, these will not be for school leavers but for employees in a variety industries.
Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), which has run a postgraduate centre on the Salomons estate for more than a decade, has acquired a property in the centre of town.
The students will now receive their tuition at Zurich House on Meadow Road, behind Fenwicks next to the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre. And for the first time Canterbury’s Business School will be involved.
Until now the university has run a clinical psychology programme at Salomons as part of its psychology, politics and sociology course. The three-year postgraduate course is funded by the NHS.
CCCU had owned the estate before it was purchased by the Markerstudy group in July 2013. The new site will allow far easier access for students than the semi-rural location of Salomons.
And these premises will help the higher education provider to expand, with an increase in clinical psychology training for the health service – but also branching out into the corporate world.
Professor Callum Firth, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences, told the Times: “The reason we are based at Salomons is because some of the students who are taking these doctorates are working for the NHS in places like London and Brighton.
“The location is critical and Tunbridge Wells is ideally located in terms of rail links. But Salomons is not the easiest place to get to.”
It was Kent County Council (KCC) who approached the university about setting up degree apprenticeships in the business sector.
“This is a very targeted approach,” said Prof Firth. “KCC sat down with us and said they wanted a training programme, and could we design and deliver it for them.
“The talk centred around proposals for supporting engineering companies to meet their training needs. Many of them are struggling to find high-quality staff and there’s a need to train them in new ways.
“I had discussions with the local council’s development officer in June last year when I was going around West Kent looking at the provision of training for engineering firms.”8
But he hopes that the scheme will appeal to a wider corporate audience. “There are also a lot of finance and insurance companies in Tunbridge Wells who may be interested in that training,” he added. “At the moment their only option is for their staff to go into London.”
This time last year the then Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Autumn Budget that companies would be charged an Apprenticeship Levy of 0.5 per cent on company payrolls from April 2017.
Large companies with annual pay bills in excess of £3million will have to pay into the Apprenticeship Levy and the only way they can get their money back is to take on apprentices.
“The apprenticeships are offered by these companies, not by us, and it depends how they react to the provision,” said Prof Firth.
“Big companies have to pay in, but small companies get 90 per cent of their costs covered so they may see an expansion of their workforce from the scheme.”
The Dean is keen to stress how much the university wants to climb out of its ivory tower and offer hope and ambition for those who already work for a living and want to expand their skills.
“We are looking to support local businesses,” he said. “I would hope to offer 20 to 30 degrees a year. But the local need determines what has to be delivered.
“Our Business School is investigating having people who are in work in the local area coming to Zurich House because making them go all the way to Canterbury is a lot less efficient than sending our staff over to Tunbridge Wells.
“We are an institution that likes to work with our local communities. Being in the centre of town will make it much easier to do that, and it will help to raise our profile.
“And we hope that we will be able to offer more to local residents when we are there.”
CCCU hopes to have the scheme up and running in April 2017.
The University of Tunbridge Wells?
Last year the Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, David Jukes, said two universities had shown a ‘serious interest’ in coming to the town.
This prompted speculation that an undergraduate campus might be developed in the town, bringing an influx of students and providing a boon for local businesses.
The rumours have recently been fuelled by the council’s plans to move into new officers, vacating the existing town hall.
The Higher Education Funding Council has previously described the borough as a ‘cold spot’ for higher education.
But Professor Firth put the dampeners on such a scheme, saying the town would not be able to provide a large enough resource for a regular university.
“There won’t be an undergraduate element to our plans because the site is too small,” he said when discussing Canterbury Christ Church University’s expansion.
“To have an effective campus you need to have 1,000 or 1,500 students – and you will need a hell of a lot of support staff to cater for that.”