Deeper hole dug in Cornish crisis zone;FE Focus

13th March 1998 at 00:00
Martin Whittaker reports on local anger over the proposed move of Camborne School of Mines from an area of already high unemployment.

Camborne School of Mines has a formidable reputation, with its graduates in great demand throughout the world.

"It's renowned," says Stuart Franklin, spokesman for the University of Exeter, the school's owner. "There's a saying that if you ever find a hole in the ground somewhere, there'll be a Camborne School of Mines graduate at the bottom of it."

Townsfolk and civic leaders in the Cornish town of Camborne share in this sense of pride and tradition. Which partly explains the growing local outrage at the University of Exeter's plans to relocate the school 13 miles away in Penzance as part of its planned new multi-million pound campus for Cornwall.

The town is still reeling from the closure last week of nearby South Crofty, Europe's last tin mine. Many now see the relocation of CSM as another kick in the teeth.

Camborne School of Mines can trace its origins back to 1859 and the need to train engineers for the thriving mining industry. It became part of the faculty of engineering of Exeter University five years ago, and has occupied its present site next to Cornwall College since the 1970s.

Dr Alan Stanhope, principal of Cornwall College, says: "We actually sit side by side, we cut their grass, we buy heat off them - it's that sort of integrated relationship. In terms of academic operations, there are few links."

While the planned move of CSM wouldn't directly affect Cornwall College, he said he was baffled by the university's plans.

"The school of mines was always seen as a core around which bigger higher education provision could develop. But at the moment there is no evidence that anything else will be added to it. So you're just moving one thing from one place to another and spending a great deal of money.

"The board's position here at Cornwall College is that they would have been most receptive to any request for adjacent space in order to expand or redevelop the existing facilities. But we've never been asked.

"With public finances in the state they are, I think there has to be better ways of spending what little money they have."

Dr Stanhope praised Sir Geoffrey Holland, the university's vice-chancellor, for raising the issue of the need for higher education in Cornwall, but added: "In the Green Paper on Lifelong Learning, there is a response from the Government to Dearing. It says that links ought to be strengthened between HE and FE.

"It is truly amazing that Sir Geoffrey was actually on the Dearing Committee when the report recommendations were written. This flies in exactly the opposite direction."

In Camborne itself, already hit by economic deprivation and high unemployment, feelings are much stronger.

Peter Weller, chairman of Camborne Chamber of Commerce, said: "We are about to write a letter to everybody concerned, trying to get it stopped. We have lost a lot of jobs in the area recently and it's another blow for Camborne if they move it.

"We will lose a lot of jobs from the area, we'll lose lecturers. There's a mineral museum there which is all about Camborne - we'd lose that. They even have their own training mine. I'd love to see them move that to Penzance. I don't think the University of Exeter realises the strength of feeling in this area. There's a huge morale problem here. We keep getting bad news."

Exeter University says that the present building was erected for 100 full-time students, but now there are 350 doing eight undergraduate honours degree courses, five HND courses and three MSc courses.

The university has linked the need to expand CSM with the Cornwall Initiative - a proposed new vocational training campus for the county at Trereife on the outskirts of Penzance. The project also includes a business school, business units and conference facilities.

But thus far, the initiative has had a rough ride. A bid to the Millennium Commission for funding was turned down last year.

A report on the project by management consultants KPMG last September concluded that "establishing a university campus in Cornwall has considerable merit, and could deliver potentially substantial economic benefits to a remote and disadvantaged part of the country".

But the report also highlighted several concerns about its viability, including a lack of detail about the proposed funding package and cost schedule, and that a large proportion of the total project costs related to the relocation of the Camborne School of Mines.

The relocation, adds the report, "would have a negative impact on the CamborneRedruth area which already suffers from especially acute levels of unemployment and economic disadvantage".

Despite this, Exeter University is pressing ahead, with a bid for European Regional Development Fund assistance to the tune of pound;310 million, and a hope of matching funding from industry.

"We are very anxious that CSM grows and develops," said Professor John Inkson, chair of the Cornwall Initiative. "We've put in a lot of work in the past few years to assist it, and we've made some extremely good appointments to CSM. And of course the danger is that those appointments were made in the expectation that CSM would be moving to a new site with better facilities."

What of the option of using existing space at Cornwall College? Professor Inkson rejects Dr Alan Stanhope's claim that the college's board was never asked. "We invited everyone who had possible space to come forward. We had something like 50 offers of space, but nothing from Cornwall College at all.

"Also, it doesn't address other problems. There might be space to allow the school to make very short-term arrangements but there's no long-term future on that site.

"We want to have Exeter University's facilities in Cornwall on one site. We want to provide facilities which will attract business and help spin-off units. We want to attract students into Cornwall. We want to attract staff into Cornwall - first-class academic staff. All of that requires a campus with some external visibility. We can't have buildings dotted all over Cornwall."

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