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University of Gloucestershire means business

PUBLISHED: 10:53 06 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:53 06 January 2017

Vice Chancellor Stephen Marston

Vice Chancellor Stephen Marston

Archant

A £20 million new business school investment is driving the University of Gloucestershire’s ambitions to serve the community better. We talk to Vice-Chancellor Stephen Marston

The University of Gloucestershire has unveiled designs for a landmark new business school and Growth Hub building at its Oxstalls Campus, Gloucester. The project, funded by bank lending, university reserves and a £5 million contribution from Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership for the business Growth Hub element, will finally bring the University’s business school, currently located in Cheltenham, and the Gloucester-based Growth Hub under one roof.

The investment will include expanding the sports facilities at nearby Plock Court, and building additional student accommodation. The final plans will go in front of Gloucester City planners early this year with the hope that building can start this Spring for student enrolment in September 2018. It’s a tight schedule, admits Vice-Chancellor Stephen Marston, and this project is on top of a new student village currently being built at Pittville in Cheltenham providing accommodation for 700 students.

For Stephen, it’s all part of what comes across as a very personal commitment to serve the local community. “For a university like ours, it’s a huge source of strength to be well connected to the community,” he said.

“We look at what skills the county and region needs, and we try to build these into our curriculum. Computing was one, so we’re working on becoming a cyber centre of excellence. Engineering was another so we created an engineering top up course.” The University is on the board of the Berkeley Green University Technical College, currently being built on the banks of the River Severn, driven by South Gloucestershire and Stroud College (SGS). This UTC will provide vocational and academic education for learners aged from 14-18 in advanced manufacturing and digital technologies, including cyber.

But the University of Gloucestershire’s ambitions don’t end there. Why support just one UTC when you can drive the creation of two? Earlier this year the university joined forced with the NHS Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust, the other NHS Trusts in Gloucestershire, and Gloucester MP Richard Graham to work towards the development of a new Gloucestershire Health UTC, ideally based close to the campus of Gloucester Royal hospital.

“We continually scan what’s going on in the local economy, both public and private, and create courses where we see a real need,” added Stephen. “We’ve wanted to offer places in nursing for years but we haven’t been able to because numbers and funding has been controlled. That’s about to change under new Government rules, so we’ve come together with the NHS Trusts and will be introducing a full degree programme in nursing.

“The proposed Health UTC will draw young people from 14 years of age interested in health, the health service and allied professions. If you can start your chosen career at 14 with well signposted routes working with our hospital in Gloucester, how good would that be?” The ambition is to open in September 2019.

That’s not all; other plans are in the pipeline, which it’s too soon for the university to reveal.

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Does Stephen ever sleep? “We are the county’s only multi faculty higher education institution and our core strength is our sense of responsibility to help our students to be the best they can be.”

His focus on students is paying off. Over the summer, there was an increase in student satisfaction rates, and graduate employment rates too. Over the last two years, there has also been a 16% increase in applications to study at the university.

It’s inevitable that students will look first at a university’s accommodation and facilities (and the designs of the new business school look suitably impressive), but Stephen also passionately wants them to attend student open days, where they can meet student ambassadors and see for themselves the enthusiasm and expertise of his academic staff.

There is a lot of competition in higher education so this focus on student satisfaction is understandable. The Government is deliberately encouraging the launch of more institutions offering higher education courses. “If we are charging £9,000 a year we have to represent good value in the eyes of the students and parents,” says Stephen. “It’s not just about three years of subject study, it’s about added value.

The university describes this as ‘Your Future Plan’. Right from the start it encourages all students to think about who they want to be when they leave, and what they want to do. “A good degree is fundamental and may get them through the door to the interview, but it won’t get them the job,” says Stephen. “It’s about seizing the opportunity of new experiences and providing evidence of positive outcomes on their CVs.”

Back to the new Business School, which will host the University’s innovative ‘Make It’ programme, launched earlier this year, guaranteeing all business students the opportunity to work on specified projects with businesses locally, across the UK and even internationally.

“We are not trying to make our business school niche for any specific subjects or research,” explains Stephen. “However, we do want to be distinctive from other universities for our deeper engagement with employers.” This includes inviting business leaders to deliver guest lectures and master classes, as well as creating a supply line of eager students willing to undertake one-off projects.

Done well, this can create a unique business/student eco system, benefitting a business as well as looking good on a student’s CV. And of course there is the Growth Hub, supported by Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership which hunts down and offers support to companies which it considers have high growth potential. This mix of business entrepreneurs with students could be a cocktail for future success.

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