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University of Cornwall News

24th July 1997

The following articles appeared in today's The Cornishman:

What more do you need?

Vice Chancellor responds to the reasons for rejection of funding for the university

By Joyce Channon
Chief Reporter

IN A forthright and lengthy letter to the Millennium Commission's chief executive, Eric Sorensen, Exeter University Vice-Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Holland has asked him: "What more do you need?"

Sir Geoffrey, whose 1,300 word letter dissects, demolishes and deplores the Commission's reasons for rejecting funding for the Cornwall University initiative, tells Mr Sorensen that the people of Cornwall - particularly its young- deserved better.

There is no right of appeal against the decision, but this has not deterred Sir Geoffrey from setting out, in the strongest terms possible, the degree of feeling throughout the county over the reasons for turning the project down, which are, he says, factually incorrect.

He has replied in full to each of the Commission's stated reasons, some of which he says are "amazing" and "beggar belief."

The Vice-Chancellor also points out that in terms of revenue, the University project is far more secure at this stage than many of the commercial, entertainment and exhibition projects which the Commission has supported.

He accuses the Commission of clearly favouring London and the South East in determining priorities, and has told Eric Sorensen: "We have proposed a Millennium project which is substantial and will clearly mark the Millennium. It is neither ephemeral, nor for the elite few, nor for the benefit of tourists.

It is for the people of Cornwall - and particularly the young - whose needs have been too long ignored."

Sir Geoffrey who has requested a meeting with the chief executive "to discuss the Commission's decision," is now intent on pushing ahead to see the University dream become a reality. Support remains widespread.

The £1 million pledged by Penwith Council will remain in the bank, and supporters, led by the Vice-Chancellor are re-grouping. The battle is far from lost. Half of the necessary finance for the academic aspects of the project is assured and the project looks likely to be aired in the Commons.

St. Ives MP, Andrew George, who met Sir Geoffrey on Saturday, is anticipating that the Dearing Report which was expected to go before the House of Commons yesterday, would lift the cap on student places, thus providing a real and tangible boost to the Cornwall initiative, and give encouragement to universities to expand opportunities.

The prime intention is to encourage people from less well-off areas to take higher education places, and on this basis the initiative should receive support. If the Government accepts the Dearing report, then this will be excellent news for us, the MP told The Cornishman.

Mr. George revealed that there was growing all party support 'behind the scenes' for the initiative and said that during the summer recess he would be preparing a presentation to Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Minister for Education and the Regions - "saying how vital this is, and what are you going to do about it."

"The Millennium Commission's decision is a set-back but there are ways around it as part of a staged development," he said.

Mr. George has also responded to the Commission itself and has told them that in his view, they have again committed themselves to the more prosperous South East, whereas Millennium funding should be about the redistribution of wealth.

"This would have meant that poorer areas like ours, could really celebrate the Millennium," he added.


Holland's response - in full - to Millennium Commission's decision not to fund university

LETTER to Eric Sorensen, Chief Executive, The Millennium Commission.

Dear Eric

Your letter of July 10 giving the reasons for the Commission not deciding to fund our project is a good deal more than disappointing - it is frustrating, not to say irritating. Reasons given for not funding the project are factually incorrect. Queries which had been reported by officers of the Commission as having been satisfactorify answered have reappeared as major reasons for rejection.

I deal with each of those reasons in turn.

"The extent to which this project represented mainstream education investment and therefore failed to demonstrate additionality and aspects which were sufficiently different from activity typically covered by public expenditure programmes. "

As has been pointed out to the Commission repeatedly, not least by the previous Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the previous Deputy Prime Minister, no such mainstream investment programme exists, nor has it existed for many years. There was no such provision in the new Government's recent Budget, nor any indication that such provision was anywhere in the Government's plans. Furthermore, support by the Commission for the University of the Highlands and Islands is in clear contradiction of the statement in your letter.

As to additionality, the project is to be sited in an area of substantial educational, social and cultural deprivation; one which suffers a huge outflow of its young people, mostly not to return for many years if ever, has suffered the collapse of almost all of its basic industries, desperately needs inward investment and lacks the basic infrastructure to enable economic growth to take place. It is an area with the lowest average earnings in England and the second lowest GDP per head.

Over 90 per cent of the young people in receipt of higher education grants in Cornwall have to leave the county to pursue that higher education. The Dearing Committee Report will almost certainly lead to students contributing more to the costs of their higher education and a need for provision closer to people's homes. Cornwall simply does not have that provision.

How can it be said that an £80 million plus project bringing 540 new jobs in the first round is not additionality? How can it be said that 5,000 new higher education places are not additional opportunities?

As to aspects which are sufficiently different from "activity typically covered by public expenditure programmes," the project is very different from any existing higher education institution in the combination of its links and partnerships with further education, its outreach to all parts of the county and its developing and ambitious use of information technology. It is a project tailor-made to match the geographical, economic and social needs of Cornwall. For too long those needs have gone unrecognised by central bodies and agencies. They are not "typical." They are special and increasingly urgent.

"The lack of certainty on co-funding."

As the Commission was made aware, £35 million of co-funding is already in place. The clearest possible signals have been given from the European Commission that a major European Regional Development Fund grant is to be awarded. The Commission has had a letter signed by the chairman of a major clearing bank. The Camborne School of Mines Trustees are solidly behind the project. Again, one asks what more does the Commission need? Are statements from Brussels not sufficient? Does the Commission not trust a clearing bank Chairman? Ours is a much stronger position than that of a number of other projects recently awarded grants by the Commission. For example, though we were delighted that a grant was made to the Eden Project, we note that its leader said openly last week that that project was still far from achieving its matching funding target.

"Doubts about the strengths of assumptions within the business plan on the funding of student residences' development and the meeting of revenue costs, and the development and rental stream of the business units."

This comment beggars belief. It was officers of the Commission who, at a relatively late stage in the process, and against our strong objections, decided that the residences and associated financing should be excluded from the project. In consequence, they were excluded from our bid. So what relevance have they? If they are now relevant the Commission should be aware that this University has a long and successful track record in this area. Indeed, we have one of the largest incomes of any university in the UK from our domestic service activities, have successfully financed and built residences to the value of £30 million in the last decade and have supported this aspect of the total project with clear guarantees of financing.

Revenue costs for academic programmes have been a cause for concern on both sides. But our meetings with the Higher Education Funding Council for England resulted in both a change of national policy towards directing extra funded student numbers to regions in need and a clear statement of intent to assist in funding student numbers for the Cornwall Initiative. In any case, a great deal of the academic activity on the campus will be paid for by the participants (i.e. part-time, postgraduate programmes or enrolments from overseas).

In consequence of all this, we already have half of the necessary finance for the academic aspects of the project assured. The Dearing Committee Report will be published on July 23. There are clear signals of recommendations to end the cap on student numbers and allow growth to resume. Thus, in terms of revenue, our project is far more secure at this stage than many of the commercial, entertainment and exhibition projects which have been supported by the Commission.

As to the development and rental stream of the business units, these were clearly addressed in submissions to you by the Cornwall County Council, Penwith District Council and others. These submissions left no doubt about the viability of that element of the project.

"The extent of the wider community benefit provided by the project."

This is an amazing statement. Tell that to the people of the South West and, in particular, Cornwall. The Commission has had a document setting out the community benefits in detail signed by 20,000 people; a letter signed by the Chairmen of the Cornwall County Council and all of the District Councils in Cornwall. It has had many other submissions referring to the obvious benefits in terms of capital investment, direct job creation, indirect job creation, spin off developments, external perceptions and added inward investment, not to mention the huge advantage in additional higher education opportunities in Cornwall. All of these benefits have been well supported by the numerous independent studies quoted in our submissions. What more does the Commission need?

"The extent of the benefit produced by the proposed outreach programme above that which currently exists. "

Where is the outreach programme against which we are being judged? The largest and longest established outreach programme in Cornwall (by far) are our own and those of our partner, the Open University. In blunt terms, apart from Falmouth College of Arts, what is at present available outside those two programmes is limited and difficult for students to follow through without the need to travel outside the county at considerable cost. Our programme has been specifically designed to complement what is already available, to be accessible within Cornwall through a network of 20 access points, to utilise modern and other electronic communications and teaching techniques, in short to capitalise on areas in which the standing of Exeter University is not in doubt. Our commissioned market research - the most extensive for any higher education project in the country - has been in the hands of the Commission for a long time and clearly identifies the needs. The Commission appears simply to have disregarded the weight of that underpinning work

"The broader important context is that, as you know, the competition for grant is intense and indeed increases rather than diminishes. "

Quite so. It seems that in determining priorities, the Commission clearly favours London and the South East. The Commission should ask itself the question, "Which are the establishments which have survived the test of time?" Almost without exception they are educational or religious foundations.

We have proposed a Millennium project which is substantial and will clearly mark the Millennium.

It is neither ephemeral, nor for the elite few, nor for the benefit of tourists. It is for the people of Cornwall - and particularly the young people of Comwall - whose needs have been too long ignored. They deserved better of the Commission.

May I conclude by formally requesting a meeting to discuss the Commission's decision and to hear your response to the points above. I hope that can be fixed at an early date, though I realise now that we are unlikely to achieve that before the summer break.

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Holland.

Copyright © Cornish Weekly Newspapers Ltd 1997

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