The Vacant Chair

fly that kite17:20 Monday 21st March 2011
Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: Let’s talk about changes at the University of Peterborough, because Peterborough City Council has agreed a deal with Cranfield University in Bedfordshire, to create a, what they’re calling a centre for renewable energy and bio-fuels in Peterborough. So let’s first of all speak to Councillor John Holdich. He’s the Cabinet Member for Education. He joins us now. Good evening to you Councillor. (PAUSE) Hello John Holdich.
JOHN HOLDICH: Hello there.
ANDY BURROWS: Is this happening at the University of Peterborough, or is this a separate development? Let me make sure I’ve got this absolutely clear.
JOHN HOLDICH: It’s a separate development. My Leader gave me a task of having a University in Peterborough within five years, and I think that the changes that have happened in the last Government and this Government, then this is universities at Peterborough, and my long-term aim is to build a new university on the South Bank site. But in the meantime this will .. we obtain funds from business and the City Council, to have a professor come in and work with our 350 environmental companies to give us an engineering and high-quality world class university.
ANDY BURROWS: OK. So just so I’m absolutely clear. This isn’t linked with the University of Peterborough, which was opened a couple of years ago now? This will be a separate development providing separate courses?
JOHN HOLDICH: Yes, and it only complements what they’re doing. We did a survey. Because we’re not just looking at them, we’re looking at six other universities as well. We did a survey of what they could deliver. And what we’ve asked Cranfield and the other universities which should come to fruition shortly ..
ANDY BURROWS: How come it’s not part of University of Peterborough?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well University of Peterborough is run with the .. by the PRC, and they’ve only got a limited number of spaces. And we need to deliver a bigger variety at a higher level.
ANDY BURROWS: Peterborough has this ambition, doesn’t it, to be the green capital of the UK. I take it you think by offering courses, then that will help that process, will it?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well that’s absolutely right. We’re talking about everything up to doctorates here. We’re an environmental city, our local environmental companies want to attract the right people into their businesses. And not only do we want them to do that, but then we’re hopeful. Because there’ll be a research facility come with this as well. That we hope they will get in will get some manufacturing going in Peterborough as well.
ANDY BURROWS: So are we talking about higher education here, or just people who are on effectively some kind of day release from the companies they’re already working at?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well it may well be a mixture of both. But whatever course you’re on, you have to have some work experience.
ANDY BURROWS: Right. So how’s it going to start? Is it mainly people who are already employed?
JOHN HOLDICH: Well the first thing to do, we’re looking for an international renowned person to be the Chair of this university, and they will work with our 380 companies in Peterborough, and others, to produce the university offering.
ANDY BURROWS: Right. I think I understand. Forgive me, I didn’t go to university, maybe I’m missing the point. You’re going to employ a professor to effectively train employees who already work at Peterborough companies.
JOHN HOLDICH: No. No.
ANDY BURROWS: I am missing the point then.
JOHN HOLDICH: Yes. No. We want a professor. It’s called a Chair of a university. It’ll be somebody international renowned, that will work with the company to build up the offer that Cranfield are going to offer in Peterborough.
ANDY BURROWS: Who’s paying for this? And how much is it going to cost?
JOHN HOLDICH: At the moment it is a partnership between Cranfield, the City Council, and Peterborough Renewable Energy. And the City Council to get it going have put some start-up money into it, which we hope to raise back from business over the next twelve months as the numbers pick up.
ANDY BURROWS: Well thank you very much Councillor John Holdich there. He’s Cabinet Member for Education in Peterborough. Well listening to that was Mark Mabey. He’s the Executive Director at the University Centre Peterborough. Evening to you Mark.
MARK MABEY: Evening Andy.
ANDY BURROWS: Am I the only on who’s a little bit confused about this idea?
MARK MABEY: Well I think it’s as you rightly said, University Centre Peterborough has got quite a foothold in Peterborough now. We’ve got 650 students studying in Peterborough here.
ANDY BURROWS: When it was first explained to me, the reason why I asked that, when it was first explained to me I thought this was going to be your next development, if you like.
MARK MABEY: Yes. We’re very pleased to hear that somewhere like Cranfield is coming in to Peterborough. They’re a very different sort of institution. They’re mainly a postgraduate institution. And my understanding is that they’re going to bring this sort of research expertise into the city specifically around environmental areas, which we’re working on as well, but at an undergraduate level.
ANDY BURROWS: So, anyway. You’re not going to see any of this, are you? Have you got enough on your plate?
MARK MABEY: (LAUGHS) Well we’ve got Anglia Ruskin students just moving to Guild House. We’ve got 1000 full-time-equivalent students in Peterborough now. So we’ve got quite a critical mass. We can grow. We’re growing part-time in a big way, particularly around Engineering. We’ve got a whole range of new programmes around Climate Investigative Studies, Sport, Journalism. So we’re obviously going to carry on growing that undergraduate market. And it’s very much for us a local market, and offering local people the opportunity to study on degrees in Peterborough.
ANDY BURROWS: You raise an interesting point there about local. Is that really how you’re marketing yourself? Will that be a big winner, do you think, over the next two or three years, particularly with all the stories about how student feesĀ are going to go up, and how it could become even more expensive than it already is?
MARK MABEY: Yes, absolutely. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.
ANDY BURROWS: By the way, as somebody with a step-son at University and another one planning to go, it’s already expensive enough.
MARK MABEY: I’ve got a daughter going in 2012, so I sympathise. But yes, I think you’re right. We’ve even seen, this year, obviously we’ve seen a big surge in applications, but we’ve seen a large number of local students wanting to come to university in Peterborough rather than go elsewhere. And I think in 2012, when people have got to find five or six thousand pounds a year living expenses, it might actually be more attractive to live at home.
ANDY BURROWS: OK. Well thank you for your time. I do appreciate it. Mark Mabey. He’s the Executive Director of University Centre Peterborough.

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