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Essex: University could grow by 6,000 students within five years

Views from accommodation  tower block at the Essex University campus.

Views from accommodation tower block at the Essex University campus.

Up to 6,000 more students could be studying at Essex University within five years.

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As part of its growth strategy the university hopes to encourage an increase of 50% on current student numbers.

However the growth will come not just at the Wivenhoe campus but also at the university’s other two centres in Southend and Loughton, as well as potentially significant increase in its online study programme.

Elements of the blueprint were outlined at a meeting last month of the University Court, a body of around 250 members including senior university leaders, staff and students, and external members.

Exact details of how the increase will be achieved have not yet been revealed as they are commercially sensitive.

In its Strategic Plan the university says: “Over the last decade the university has grown in size. If we are to fulfil our mission of excellence this expansion will need to continue.

“Consequently in the period to 2019 the university aspires to increase its student numbers by 50%, while recognising the precise rate of growth it will be able to achieve will be dependent on the way in which the rapidly changing higher education market develops.

“As student numbers rise there will be an associated increase in staff numbers to ensure the quality of the educational experience the university offers is maintained.

“Additionally such growth must also support the on-going financial sustainability of the institution.”

There are 11,939 students at the university with the majority – 10,482 – at the Wivenhoe campus. The university also employs 2,182 staff.

It is already expanding with the Knowledge Gateway development on Wivenhoe Park, which alone is expected to provide at least 2,000 new jobs to the local economy, though many will not be directly employed by the university.

Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell, who was at the meeting, said he supported the growth plans but added some issues needed to be resolved.

He said: “The university for the last decade or so has been the single largest economic generator for Colchester and the borough. Therefore anything which creates more jobs and greater benefit to the economy is to be welcomed.

“Having a university is significantly more advantageous than not having one, but a disadvantage is the way it seriously distorts the private housing market to the great detriment of many families.

“The university has got to do more in terms of providing 100% housing for its students.”

David Burch, director of policy at the Essex Chambers of Commerce, added: “The university is a major employer in its own right, not just with tutorial staff but all the ancillary staff that go with them.

“It attracts a lot of people into Essex from elsewhere, including around the globe, which is extremely important for potential inward investment and export opportunities.

“It supports a lot of businesses and help them develop, and many students may go on to set up their own company and we hope they remain within Essex.

“Students also put money into local economies through rent, entertainment and shopping, so it is of considerable benefit to Colchester.”

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