Robert Joyce

The University of Brighton are facing calls for transparency after it emerged that their new Deputy vice Chancellor faces a potential conflict of interest in relation to his positions amongst the senior management team at Sussex Coast College Hastings and the University of Brighton.

The potential conflict has arisen after the University made the decision to close its Hastings campus and to launch a new, much smaller project they’re calling a “University Centre”.  This would see Sussex Coast College Hastings potentially taking control of one of the university’s three campus buildings in the town centre and providing staffing for Higher Education courses which would be accredited by the University of Brighton. Whilst Professor Pole has no pecuniary interest in either institution, it’s being argued by staff unions that his senior position is being used to enforce decisions that are being made against the university’s own internal governance structures, and that this will lead to redundancies, massively reduced student numbers, lower pay and working conditions for staff and reduced support and guidance services for future students.

Despite repeated Freedom of information requests the University have refused to offer a conflict of interest statement to clarify Professor Pole’s position. This comes after minutes of the 8th March Board of Governors meeting where the decision to close the campus took place were redacted on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.

The university’s decision to close the campus has been met with a huge opposition from the local community, many of whom see it as a betrayal of an agreement set in motion 13 years ago that the University would commit itself to the ongoing regeneration of Hastings and St Leonards. U of B pocket cartoon

This commitment was emphasised just last year when the former Vice Chancellor Julian Crampton signed a memorandum of co-operation, at the time then council leader Jeremy birch said “This collaboration aims to open up a wide range of initiatives for information and knowledge sharing such as identifying how both physical and human resources can be best used to promote joint working; identifying and supporting sectors that will create jobs and provide sustainable economic growth; to improve the student experience and establish Hastings as a university town that can support and benefit from student population growth and to evaluate and secure funding for projects and new initiatives.”

Local campaigners have been working together with staff and students unions’ to fight the university’s decision and are optimistic that with time, and the requisite amount of pressure, they will convince the Board of Governors to reconsider their operations in Hastings and look to less drastic ways of creating a sustainable model for Higher Education in Hastings.