The University of Brighton recently concluded their consultation which proposes to change their Hastings Campus into a University Centre. The reason given for the proposed down grade was not being able to attract enough students. Hastings Community Network has responded to the consultation to express their views and would now like to summarise them in an open letter.

Higher Education is key to the town’s regeneration and has improved the lives of many who have taken up the opportunities offered in Hastings so far. We believe that the changes will not only damage the reputation of the University of Brighton, but that of Hastings, especially in terms of its long term regeneration ambitions.

We know that a much reduced course offer will be available in Hastings once it becomes a University Centre. This coupled with the University telling us they are struggling to attract students into Hastings leaves us apprehensive about the long term future for Higher Education in our town.

There are questions about who is going to do the extensive development work to bring to life the proposed University Centre. We already know that students coming to Hastings are finding the experience lacking. Without improving this it will be very difficult and will require significant investment.

Students now pay fees of £9,000 P/A and have high expectations of what they will get for their money. With less choice and fewer students how can our town compete and be comparable with other Universities? Young people are savvy consumers and will shop around for the best. We would like to ask what the University of Brighton is planning to do to ensure enough students chose Hastings.

It’s important also to consider the students that are currently studying in Hastings under the existing campus structure. The effect of being in the midst of what feels like a downgrade must be very demoralising.

We are concerned about the Knowledge Exchange and Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP) through which positive relationships have developed with voluntary organisations and community groups. This has provided new opportunities for grants, research and links to academics that were previously unavailable. Hastings Community Network hope that CUPP and its resources will still be available at a local level.

Implications for the Town Centre economy will also be significant. This ranges from the effect on landlords, shop owners and hoteliers to tourist attractions, restaurants and entertainment venues. By working in partnerships more fully, raising the profile of the benefits students bring to the local economy as well as exploring ways to make Hastings a specialist in a specific academic field could go a long way to securing Higher Education in our town. It’s also essential that the Student Union plays its part and has a strong presence and commitment at a local level.

The University of Brighton state in their consultation that they considered 5 different options for the future of Higher Education in Hastings. Hastings Community Network believes these options were not adequately examined or discussed

The approach the university undertook at the beginning of this process has been a huge stumbling block. Ithasgotinthewayofallowing key partners to address the real issues affecting Higher Education in the town. The University’s handling of decisions about Hastings has been divisive and has damaged partner relations at a strategic level. Had the university entered into a productive dialogue we could have spent the last period working collaboratively.

Considerable public money and partner investment has been expended on a project which proved to be unviable. A clear public statement from the University of Brighton should be made about the level of this investment which should also address the following questions: ■ Ownership of the buildings.

  •  What conditions exist which might affect their future disposal.
    Whether the University has fulfilled all their contractual obligations relatingtothe buildings.
  • How the transition to University Centre status will create buildings which are not used and what plans will be put in place to ensure that these assets are used well.
  • Projections of student numbers were clearly wrong and there needs to be an assurance that any further projections are accurate to prevent similar issues occurring.

Hastings Community Network understands that Sussex University have expressed an interest in playing a role in the area. If correct, we urge that a collaborative partnership approach be developed to increase the likelihood of a sustainable offer which can maximise the contribution of both bodies.

With huge amounts of public financial investment into University of Brighton in Hastings there must be a commitment to ensure they retain a high profile presence in the town and give assurances that they will not withdraw further at a later date.