The University of Cumbria is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary in August.
Vice Chancellor Prof Julie Mennell says the university has been “a catalyst for individual and regional pride” over the last decade, as she seeks to develop a new strategic plan for its future.
But these are challenging times for the higher education sector.
The university has a strong reputation in education and nursing, but changes to government policy, such as cuts to nursing bursaries, and a switch of trainee teacher numbers from universities to schools, have had major consequences for the Lancaster campus.
For next year, applications for health are down by 37 per cent compared to 2016/17, and applications to teacher training programmes have also seen a decline by 11 per cent.
Because of this, the uni’s strategic plan will almost certainly involve job losses.
But Prof Mennell said the new plan would focus on strong academic areas of excellence, not only in education, health, sport and wellbeing and arts and culture, but also in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, business and professional services, and the rural visitor economy.
Dianne Mardell, the university’s senior manager for the Academic Development and Innovation Team, said the uni worked with around 2,000 businesses, plus the public sector and armed forces, and is currently investing in higher and degree level apprenticeships as there has been a policy shift towards vocational learning.
Prof Mennell, who became Vice Chancellor in August 2016, said: “My role as Vice Chancellor is securing the future success and sustainability of the university.
“To do that we’ve got to be very clear about what our strategic focus is.
“We’re an institution that’s been a catalyst for individual and regional pride, one that has both national and international reach.
“We’re retaining all of our campuses, and looking to capitalise more on place and location.
“We also want to be more visible in Barrow and the west coast of Cumbria.
“In relation to what we offer, we’re looking to extend our offer in business, apprenticeships, workforce development, and emphasis on strategic partnering, providing routes and pathways through higher education, and also developing our international footprint.
“We’re now at the point where we need to be looking at our resource base.
“Our staff base is higher than it needs to be in terms of delivery, and is bigger than the sector average in terms of staff costs.
“The sector average is just over 50 per cent of income, and we’re just over two thirds.
“That means we’ve got less money to invest.
“As yet we’ve no hard and fast figure (in terms of job losses), but we expect an outcome within the next month or so.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved over the past 10 years here and the next 10 is an opportunity to take things further.”
The university is the largest provider of teacher training in the country, so has been affected more than most by changes to teacher training provision.
It is currently second across the UK for employability of students, and says it is adapting to changes in the nature of higher education and vocational training.
Prof Mennell said: “We’re pushing ahead with provision for paramedic training, including army medical services, and policing apprenticeships.
“We’re now in a position of confidence about who we are and where we’re going in the future, and we’ve been consistent and open about the fact that this is what we’re going to do.”
Dianne Mardell senior manager in the Academic Development and Innovation Team, has been at the university for five years.
She said: We work with businesses and organisations and attract different funding sources.
“We’re really keen to work with agencies and how we can facilitate in terms of partnership work, in particular around health and social care.
“The main questions are what are our local community needs, and what are the high level skills that businesses need.
“It’s driving employers to think a little bit differently about how they train and educate their workforce.
“We’re looking at things like the reskilling of existing staff, with employers setting the bar in terms of standards.
“It sits very well alongside what we specialise in here at the university, which is vocationally focussed programmes of learning.
“We work with around 2,000 businesses, plus public services and the armed forces.
“Our training and vocations don’t have to be campus based, and it doesn’t have to be distance learning either.
“We can look at leadership and management training, for example making staff more confident in their role.
“We’re also doing paramedic training and the professionalisation of the police - the government wants police constables to be Degree level now.
“We’ve been at the forefront of informing this, and it will be a perfect fit for us.”
Tim Barry, 52 head of department for Medical and Sports Science, has been at the university for 20 years.
He was captain of Lancaster Cricket Club for four years, and has lived in Lancaster and Morecambe for 20.
He said: “There’s huge growth in medical imaging and radiography at the moment.
“We have nine members of staff presenting at the UK radiology conference in Manchester in May.
“We’re also doing world leading research on foetal recognition.
“Within sport and exercise, we’ve got an “active ageing” research group, and the research will have a real impact on how we grow old, while staying fit.
“It’s changing the way we live.
“For example we’re looking at how and why people fall by doing infra-red tracking on the eye, working alongside Age UK.
I think we’ve got a really bright future.
“We’re looking at a really employer focussed, growth focussed university, that gives students the degree they need to go out and get a good job.
“Across higher education it’s going to be tough, things change all the time.”
Tim presented research on spinal curvature and spinal shrinkage in fast bowlers in cricket at the World Conference in Science and Medicine of Cricket in Sydney in 2015.
The University of Cumbria was formed in 2007 by the merger of St Martin’s College in Lancaster, Cumbria Institute of the Arts and University of Central Lancashire’s Cumbria sites, has more than 10,000 students across its seven sites.
546 members of staff work at the Lancaster campus.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has reduced its funding to the university. It received £2.6m in 2016/17; £2.8m in 2015/16: and £3.5m in 2014/15.
The university is “financially stable” but has seen its operating surplus for investment reduce from £4.1m in 2014/15 to £3.1m in 2015/16.
FACTS AND FIGURES
This year £500,000 has been spent on clinical skills labs - split between Lancaster and Carlisle.
Last year £100,000 was spent refurbishing the library at Lancaster
In 2014 £200,000 was spent renewing the all weather sport pitches.
In 2009 the £9m LearningGateway building opened.
This year, a new 220 seat lecture theatre and 10 teaching rooms is currently under construction.
The as yet unnamed building will officially open in September.