photo credit: Sam Kinch
photo credit: Sam Kinch

Well, it has happened. The University of Brighton has released a strangely vague statement apparently announcing its pullout from Hastings over the next two years.

No one seems to really know what is meant by: “The university should continue to support the delivery of a more focused higher education offering in the town targeting the local community. This could be delivered through a broadening and deepening of its relationship with Sussex Coast College Hastings.”

The university has supposedly based this decision on financial grounds. Unsurprisingly, when students of the Hastings campus met with the new Vice-Chancellor Professor Debra Humphris on Wednesday, her rather cushy salary of £235k per year (more than David Cameron’s) was immediately brought up, as was a call for her resignation, 

Local MP Amber Rudd told HIP, “Without delay, the University needs to communicate the full details of what this ‘enhanced relationship’ with Sussex Coast College means for our town and its students.

“A decision to close the Hastings Campus would be a backwards step for our town’s regeneration, especially since we have invested large sums of taxpayers’ money [£12 million] into creating the campus in the first place…I want Hastings to remain a university town and I will continue to work with Sussex Coast College, Brighton University, Hastings Borough Council, local businesses and all those who will help us to create more higher education opportunities in our much loved town.”

What action Rudd will take to try to reverse this economically devastating withdrawal is yet to be seen.

But it isn’t just an economy at stake, says Dr Julia Hope, Lecturer in Higher Education and Academic Practice, University of Kent. Her in-depth study of the student population in regards to studying at the satellite campus illustrates the classist nature and long-term damage to students, not just educationally, caused by this move.

“The Centre…was established with Strategic Development Funding (part-financed by the European Union) as part of an initiative by economic development agencies to make HE attractive and accessible to disadvantaged individuals and communities.

“We know how important quality provision is; if St Hilda’s at Oxford was closing and the recommendation was that their students could transfer to the local FE college there would be national uproar.”   

Hope’s research shows the strong connection for Hastings Campus students, largely recruited from the local community, between “the processes of becoming, being and achieving as a higher education student, and their own cultural and social identity.  

“It was not just about getting a degree, it was being part of an academic community…Being part of a campus that is situated and part of the local community was vital to the students sense of belonging and ability to succeed. By entering higher education in Hastings many felt that although it was not an easy transition it had changed their lives.”

This is very much a local issue in terms of access to higher education. Hope says, “the majority of students in my study had family homes/lived within 20 miles of the campus. This decision does not just affect Hastings but the surrounding area.  The transport routes in from Hastings and the rural areas means that alternative universities and campuses are at least 1.30 to 2.30 hours away.”

Rumours over the last year regarding the university’s inability to acquire enough suitable properties to develop into student housing (a significant revenue generator for many universities) could be a factor in this decision. Though that doesn’t necessarily add up with the above demographics. Were they hoping that student recruitment could be significantly expanded beyond Sussex? Do they prefer to focus on research rather than providing quality education regionally? We are left to speculate due to the veiled nature of the University of Brighton’s statement.

Looking back at the positive vision of the future in a 2013 statement by former director of the Hastings Campus, Margaret Wallisit all seems a bit of a U-turn. The university’s Strategic Review 2012-15 cites developments on the Hastings Campus such as new buildings, the new journalism and digital media courses, a 29% rise in applications to the Hastings Campus as well as involvement in improvements in the Hastings Academies and local primary schools, as part of the their successful growing portfolio. The question is what has changed so quickly that this blow to the community is thought necessary?

Click here for the petition to stop the closure.