Jordanhill: one big miserable mistake

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Just when other universities across Europe are actively entering the global learning community and embracing multi-site opportunities, Strathclyde University announces it is selling off the faculty of education campus (formerly Jordanhill College of Education).

This will encourage, so they say, flexible learning, networking and research collaboration. It makes you wonder who is advising this university of useful learning on matters educational. Has it not heard of the internet and e-mail, of video conferencing and virtual classrooms? Has it not realised that partnerships are all-important in the expanding higher education sector?

If it's not possible to create partnerships across the 3.5 miles from Jordanhill to the city centre, what chance of establishing partnerships across the central belt of Scotland, let alone with other European countries? Bringing everything together on one city centre campus does not automatically create effective working partnerships. Physical proximity is not the touchstone of effective relationships - ask any marriage counsellor.

The other reason given for the sale of the Jordanhill campus is financial: prudence, speculation, expediency, opportunism, short-termism - it's not clear which. But the figures don't add up. Sell off the Jordanhill site for an estimated pound;25 million and replace it with a pound;52 million city centre new building. Even Mr Micawber would recognise this is a recipe for misery.

It also begs the question whether the estates department of the university has competence, greater than the Scottish parliament, to keep expenditure in check.

Take just one complication in the planning of a new build. The student numbers in the faculty of education are particularly volatile over the medium term, subject as they are to changing demands from a Scottish Executive keen to produce the right number of teachers, social workers, speech and language therapists and community educators to meet changing demographic trends.

Currently, intake numbers are at an all-time high; within two years, it is projected these numbers will drop before rising more gradually again. The present buildings have undergone millions of pounds of upgrading to make them fit-for-purpose. With creative and thoughtful timetabling, these sorts of fluctuations in student numbers have been accommodated on the present site.

Which baseline figures of student numbers will inform the construction of a new building? How will flexibility be built in so that the ebbs and flows of student (and staff) numbers don't result in overcrowding on the one hand and under-use on the other? Occupancy rates have been of particular interest to the university of late.

The present buildings on the Jordanhill campus and the organisational structures are fit to meet this changing demand. Neither is guaranteed in a new building in the city centre. The dismantling of Jordanhill is not just a bricks and mortar issue. The organisational relationships that have been built up over more than 50 years have stood the test of time and patterns of working are informed, effective and convivial.

The university has never stated clearly what problem it is addressing by selling off the Jordanhill campus. Why fix it, if it's not broken?

As a radical alternative for the west of Scotland, what about merging the former St Andrew's College (now the faculty of education of Glasgow University) with Jordanhill? Now that's got serious educational and financial advantages.

Michael Hough

Partickhill Road

Glasgow

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