Medway Council promises a "resilient" bid as local politicians and students oppose the University of Creative Arts’ decision to close its Rochester campus.
Medway Council does not expect the closure of University of Creative Arts’ (UCA) Rochester campus to affect its City of Culture 2025 bid.
UCA has been involved in the city’s candidacy “since day one”, the council says, but is not crucial to the programme should Medway’s bid succeed.
“We will be very sorry to see them leave, but we are resilient and our creative community continues to thrive and grow,” a council member told ArtsProfessional.
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UCA’s plan to close the campus, first announced in May, was criticised by Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett, who branded the decision a “tragedy”.
“They are determined to leave, and shame on them for that,” he told KentOnline.
Local MPs have since lobbied to retain the campus but their offers of support have not been seized.
Rochester & Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst told ArtsProfessional she was "frustrated" by the "incredibly disappointing decision".
"The Rochester campus has clearly been neglected for some time and the UCA is just not as invested in the Medway Towns as it is to its other more glamourous campuses," Tolhurst added.
Despite the anticipated closure, Medway Council remains confident its City of Culture bid will benefit from the “meteoric growth” the area experienced prior to the pandemic.
Valued at £4.8bn four years ago, the council estimates Medway’s economy has since increased to £5.9bn.
“Medway’s resilience has been demonstrated time and time again and we’re confident whatever UCA’s final position, Medway will bounce back,” a Medway Council spokesperson added.
City of Culture partnerships
Universities have historically been principal partners for City of Culture winners.
The University of Hull’s Culture, Place and Policy Institute ran an evaluation programme after Hull’s 2017 tenure, concluding “the city’s image has changed for the better both within Hull and externally”.
A Medway Council spokesperson commented: “Should UCA close their offer in Medway, we would still have three thriving universities, which is still more than many cities across the country.”
UCA said it remains “keen to support the bid with [its] expertise,” but declined to explain what this might look like.
A UCA spokesperson told ArtsProfessional the Rochester campus had become “unsustainable” due to a backlog maintenance bill of £18m.
The decision to close led Medway’s three MPs to write to UCA’s President and Vice Chancellor Professor Bashir Makhoul to say they would have “done everything possible to help secure government funding [to] maintain this important facility”.
Medway Council said it has been in contact “with a range of partners to find solutions and maintain a UCA presence in Medway”.
“We want to maintain UCA’s presence in Medway and have made contact at the highest levels to offer our support to try to achieve that,” Cllr Jarret told ArtsProfessional.
The Rochester campus employs up to 100 staff members and has 1,000 students.
All university level courses currently taught at the site, including fashion and textiles, photography and interior design, will be relocated to other UCA campuses.
The university hopes to redeploy staff wherever possible.
Further education cuts
Alongside the Rochester campus closure, UCA announced it will stop providing pre-degree and foundation courses after the 2021/22 academic year.
Medway will retain the largest provision of further education in the county at MidKent College, according to the council.
But the decision was criticised by UCASU, UCA’s students’ union, whose board was not consulted by the university prior to the announcement.
A statement on the UCASU website says the decision is a “shock”. 60% of students surveyed felt negatively about the closures.
UCA’s withdrawal from further education comes as the university focusses on becoming “a global creative university” for undergraduate, postgraduate and research degrees.
It plans to create ‘Centres of Excellence’ that will give students access to more facilities, collaborative opportunities and academic expertise.
The centres are expected to be established at UCA’s Epsom campus from 2022.