Designs on gaining university status

Art colleges are opting to merge with one another as a way to survive and grow

Small is beautiful or big is best. That, in simple terms, is the choice facing hard-pressed art and design colleges. They are not alone at this crossroads. Other specialist institutions have faced similar decisions: in land-based education, specialist colleges have either merged to become the agriculture department of a university or, like Hadlow College in Kent, have fought Learning and Skills Council pressure to retain independence.

The urge to merge has been stimulated by a relaxation in the criteria by which colleges can become universities. The first specialist arts institution to secure a university title was the University of the Arts London, the former London Institute, inaugurated in May 2004. It pulled together the capital's famous five art colleges - Chelsea, Camberwell, Central Saint Martins, the London College of Fashion and the London College of Communication - to create the largest arts university in Europe. It has all the funding advantages of a university but, under rector Sir Michael Bichard's leadership, has let its individual colleges keep their names and identities. This is an attractive model for smaller institutions looking to retain their distinctive identity, while piggy-backing on the financial and administrative resources of a large university - and a sixth college may be joining the federation shortly.

The same prize of a university title prompted the recent merger of the Kent and Surrey institutes of art and design. The combined institution has renamed itself the University College for the Creative Arts at Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone & Rochester, and is set for university status by 2007.

The merger has created a single body with the muscle to join the university sector - and rector Elaine Thomas believes it's a club worth joining. "As a specialist university, we can offer a strong voice for our subject," says Professor Thomas. "It gets us a seat at the table when it comes to influencing policy."

She believes specialist art institutions offer something extra - focus, drive and support for students - that's impossible when submerged as a department within a larger institution. "I've worked in large universities where I've had responsibility for art and design, but you are often at the end of a queue when it comes to getting help," says Thomas. She believes there's safety in numbers, whether by informal allegiances or full-blown mergers. "We chose a merger because it gives us security and university status," she says.

Other institutions believe specialism can only be preserved by retaining independence. But this doesn't mean stagnating while rivals prosper. Ravensbourne College of Design and Communications has its own plans - full of change, investment and collaboration. Ravensbourne is set to move from its base in Chislehurst, Kent, to the Greenwich peninsula. There it will collaborate with Greenwich-based arts institutions Trinity Laban and the Rose Bruford drama college. The plan is to double student numbers to 2,000 and to relocate to a £50m site next to the Millennium Dome. "The way to survive is to have a niche, to know what you do and do it well," says principal Robin Baker, a firm advocate of diversity.

Ravensbourne's collaboration is another way of ensuring survival without sacrificing independence. Baker believes this is a model that will be increasingly adopted in the coming years, particularly in the capital. "Collaboration will be the name of the game in London for the next few years in order to offer a wide range of courses with the appropriate back up."

Collaboration is also on the cards at Wimbledon School of Art. Merger talks with Kingston University were called off last year as the small south-west London college sought to develop links within the specialist arts sector.

Talks with the University of the Arts London are ongoing and, says a spokesman, an announcement is due before the end of the year.

News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape