The University of Brighton have seemingly withdrawn their decision to close their operation in Hastings following growing legal pressure over the way their decision was reached, although statements from the University following the withdrawal seem to suggest a conflicting position which has lead campaigners to demand more transparency over its intentions.
In meetings with local staff unions (despite having already made moves to stop recruitment for 2017) and following a legal challenge from the University and College Union which represents academics at the University, the university has insisted that no final decision on the future of the campus has been made, and that the announcement in March was merely an indication of their intentions to look at alternative provisions. They also state that no final decision will be taken until November once a lengthy consultation involving all local stakeholders has taken place.
A joint statement released by UCU and Unison on 13th June stated “At the Joint Negotiating Committee (the negotiating forum between the University’s senior management and the trade unions, chaired by the VC) last Wednesday afternoon, the University’s trade unions were informed that this [closure of the campus and the establishment of a university centre] is no longer the position. Under pressure from the local campaign in Hastings, reputational damage to the University’s image nationally, and the threat of legal action from the UCU, the Vice Chancellor has now agreed that she currently has no authority to close the campus.”
Whilst the news was welcomed in some quarters, the University’s internal communications to staff have left campaigners concerned that this merely represents a PR exercise on the part of the university, with a staff update from Vice Chancellor Debra Humphris sent on the 14th June stating “Whilst the final shape of the proposal is still under development, given all the factors that made the review necessary, it is clear that the model of Higher Education provision in Hastings will be significantly different from that which is currently in place. This means that no change is not an option and, whilst we know this might not alleviate current concerns, it would be misleading to suggest otherwise.”
The next step in the process is for the university to put a proposal to the Board of Governors who will convene for an extraordinary meeting on 14th July. It is expected that they will be asked to vote on a proposal to move towards the university centre and that there will then follow a three month consultation with staff and local stakeholders. Concerns were raised by members of the Students’ Union that this will exclude students from the consultation process. The university have suggested that they will have to extend the consultation process in light of this, leading to more delayed uncertainty and accusation of mismanagement of the situation on the part of the Board of Governors.
A statement from the students’ union has made it clear that pressure will be maintained on the University to honour their commitment to the town. Molly Maher, Vice-president for Welfare and Campaigns, went on the record to say “We whole heartedly agree with the statement from UCU and Unison and would welcome working with the Vice Chancellor and University Board of Governors to find a satisfactory solution for the preservation of Higher Education in Hastings, if a more rigorous process could be put in place.
However, until that point we will continue to campaign and fight against any moves to close the Hastings campus without appropriate consultation with staff, students and the local community.”