Quay opens door to a new campus

An ambitious new university site planned for London's Docklands will be geared towards jobs and the local community, writes Nicholas Faith
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The Independent Online
London's next campus, planned to hold 5,000 students is merely a windblown strip of land, half a mile long, 200 yards wide, stretching along the north side of the Royal Albert Dock at the easternmost end of Docklands.

The only sign of life among the rusting rails and weed-strewn concrete roads is a Sunday market. Yet the London Docklands Development Corporation - and Frank Gould, vice-chancellor of the University of East London - firmly believes that this will be the site for the most exciting educational concentration London has seen since ''Albertopolis'', the group of buildings in South Kensington named after the same royal patron as the dock itself.

And next to the ''Royals' University College'', as it is provisionally called, is the site for a science and technology park, a phenomenon well known outside London, but absent in the capital itself.

The site looks as if it is miles from anywhere, but behind it is the extension to the Docklands Light Railway, which will whisk students to the City in 20 minutes, while vastly expensive road extensions provide access for the better-heeled.

The ''Royals'' is a natural part of the plan, first launched when Michael Heseltine was Secretary of State for the Environment, for regenerating the East Thames Corridor, a region now known officially as Thames Gateway. The need for a new centre of higher education remains urgent, since the boroughs in Docklands still record lower educational attainments (and expectations) than almost any other region in Britain.

The project is sponsored not only by UEL but also by Queen Mary's College. The City University and London Guildhall, while supportive sponsors, would be less closely involved, acting probably as ''academic suppliers'' in the sort of horse-trading now indulged in by so many institutions.

The plans involve a campus for just under 5,000 students, a third of them relocated from UEL's scattered base in east London, the rest will be new. Professor Gould knew heads of other institutions personally - and it is a great help that the principal of Queen Mary's, Graham Zellick, is an enthusiast for education within the community.

This is crucial, for Gould is looking for a considerable degree of involvement from local councils. These are naturally enthusiastic since their new policy for development is ''getting something you want'' as opposed to the 1980s when they simply tried to get compensation in one form or another for developments they were not keen on.

Partly as a result of local pressure, all the faculties will be technical, scientific, or vocational, including such fashionable areas as business, management, media and health (UEL is already well-known for its physiotherapy department). Professor Gould says UEL would ''continue to concentrate on vocational subjects . . . the students are very astute and job-oriented.'' In areas such as fashion and business information systems, for example, UEL is thriving precisely because it has proved so effective in getting its graduates into jobs.

The idea of a university college sponsored by more than one university is not new: Salford already boasts a similar venture, and the University College of Stockton was set up by the University of Durham and Teesside University.

The hunt for funds is already on. The promoters could get a flying start if they get the pounds 10m they've applied for from the Government's Single Regeneration budget and are also trying to get money from the European Union's development fund - although Docklands' special status is a hindrance in trying to get the region accepted as a truly deprived area (which by normal criteria it is). Even more promising is an application to the EU's Sprint programme for a feasibility study for the science and technology park.

There is a wide range of other possible benefactors. The London Docklands Development Corporation could pitch in pounds 4m. Peabody and other charities have come forward with ideas for self-financing student hostels. But perhaps the best - albeit unspoken - prospect is for an intensification of UEL's already close links with Ford at Dagenham, which already uses the university to ''transform technicians into graduates'' - a phrase that could serve as the modest but sensible motto for the whole project.

(Photograph omitted)

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