When your average student looks out of his or her college room, the view is rarely anything to write home about. But a select few students attending Cornwall College in Newquay this coming term will enjoy the rarity of a sea view.
The further education college is the first of its kind to have created its own halls of residence, having entered into partnership with a local beach-side guesthouse called the Sunnyside Hotel. The move was in response to increased demand for courses at the college, which has carved out a niche for itself in the field of marine ecology and conservation.
"General FE colleges have looked at this solution for a number of years," says David Linnell, deputy chief executive of the Cornwall Colleges Group, which includes Cornwall College sites at Newquay, St Austell, Camborne, and Saltash, along with Duchy College and Falmouth Marine School. "Our site in Newquay had a very buoyant demand thanks to our niche courses in marine biology, which have been very successful."
Newquay caters for around 2,000 full-time students, and the rising interest has led to increased pressure on accommodation. "We started to look at what accommodation was available – to see whether hotels could be converted into halls," says Linnell. "We wanted a location that was central and would allow people to study easily."
Hence the decision to use Sunnyside Hotel, ideally located just above the Blue Reef Aquarium and overlooking Towan Beach. It's only a short walk from Towan Head, a perfect spot to observe marine wildlife. And it's also handy for the college itself, situated just 10 to 15 minutes walk away. This, according to lifetime Newquay resident Linnell, is "one of the most idyllic walks anyone could have. You go out of the hotel, across the clifftop, through a nice part of town, through the gardens and you're there. Beautiful."
If other further education institutions follow Cornwall College's lead and create their own halls of residence, the UK college network could soon start to resemble the US junior college or "juco" system. These American community colleges closely replicate the American university experience, far more so than further education colleges in the UK.
"This is one way colleges could become more community-based," says Linnell. "This could develop into local higher education proper, so people don't have to travel. And we can provide niche courses for people from Europe and beyond. It's a good way for people to live and breathe the environment, and work with people who are committed to it."
The partnership between the college and hotel is also an attractive proposition for Newquay itself. "Many hotels only take coach parties in the winter months, or they close dow," says Lee Gamble, Sunnyside Hotel's owner. Newquay is a seasonal resort, often only busy for around 12 weeks in the summer. In the winter, Cornwall can feel rather desolate; the hotel-college partnership is a novel solution to that problem.
"It's all very well Cornwall College having great courses," adds Gamble, "but it's the social side that's lacking. This is a great opportunity for Cornwall College to exploit the nightlife side of things. Newquay can lend itself to being a great student town."
Sunnyside is also doing its bit to create a more typical student environment. The hotel bar will serve cut-price drinks to students only, and the 31 first-years who take up residence this month will enjoy a pool table, games room and DVD projector. There's even a wireless-enabled common room. "We marketed it as somewhere not just to read but to make friends and enjoy socially," says Gamble. All rooms are en suite, and cost between £85 and £130 per week; you pay more for sea views.
Karl Mersh, 23, from Kent, begins a foundation degree in zoological conservation in September and will be one of the lucky students spending this year at Sunnyside Hotel. "Going into halls is a good way to get to know people," he says. "You're always in contact with other classmates. And this is in Newquay – right on the beachfront!"
The social arrangement was one of Karl's main motivations for choosing Sunnyside. "It's simple: if you're living together you get to know people; if you're by yourself, you're isolated."