University Campus Suffolk provost Richard Lister is ‘quietly confident’ UCS can gain fully-fledged independence and give Suffolk an extra £30million annual boost

Mr Lister said: I hope that, if all went perfectly, some time in early 2016, or the middle of 2016,

Mr Lister said: I hope that, if all went perfectly, some time in early 2016, or the middle of 2016, we might have full independence from UEA and Essex, the power to award our own degrees and the title University of Suffolk. - Credit: Archant

Almost 500 years after Cardinal Wolsey’s dramatic fall from power triggered the demise of his vision of creating an Ipswich college to match those in Eton and Westminster, the county is finally on the verge of establishing its own university.

In an exclusive interview, Richard Lister, provost and chief executive of University Campus Suffolk (UCS), said that he is “quietly confident” that UCS can become an independent institution; a significant upgrade in status which could boost Suffolk’s economy by £30million every year, he said.

Full-time student numbers would increase by more than 50% to around 7,500 over the next five years, more international students would choose to live and study in the county and educational standards and business opportunities would significantly improve if UCS becomes an independent institution, Mr Lister said.

The Ipswich-based university, which opened in 2007 and is run in a partnership between the University of East Anglia and the University of Essex, would be the first independent university in Suffolk awarding its own degrees.

Last year, UCS announced its ambition of becoming a fully-fledged university. In May, the Quality Assurance Agency’s Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers agreed to proceed with a detailed scrutiny of its bid for independence.

Mr Lister said: “I don’t want to pre-judge the outcome but we are half way through that and I think that we have performed pretty well, so I am optimistic that we will stick to the timetable (and) we should, I hope, have degree-awarding powers some time probably towards the end of the next calendar year if all goes to plan.

“But of course until the review is finished we won’t know that. I’m not counting chickens at all but I am quietly confident that this place can demonstrate that we are good enough to give our own degrees.

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“I am very, very confident that we can demonstrate that.”

UCS was set up in 2007 under a partnership between the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University of Essex and is based at Ipswich’s flagship Waterfront. It has campuses in Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and Otley.

If the long road to independence ends in victory, UCS would be in a position to apply for a university title, with University of Suffolk the current preferred moniker.

Mr Lister said: “I hope that, if all went perfectly, some time in early 2016, or the middle of 2016, we might have full independence from UEA and Essex, the power to award our own degrees and the title University of Suffolk, which would mean we demonstrated that we are as good as anywhere else in the UK and that we are entitled to give degrees not just in the UK but internationally.

“It would be a real vote of confidence in the work that we have done here and it would allow us to compete with the rest of the UK and internationally on an equal footing with any other university.”

He said acquiring independence status would help UCS grow and bolster the local economy.

He explained: “We would hope to grow to around 7,500 (full-time) students (from the current approximate 4,500 equivalent full-time students) including international students, which we get very few of at the moment because of our curious status.

“If we got to 7,500 students that would probably, in addition to what we put in at the moment, put about another £25-30million a year in to the Ipswich and Suffolk economy.

“Universities are huge drivers of the economies of their local regions. One of the interesting facts is the difference you see in unemployment, earnings, and even life chances, things like life expectancy, in towns with universities compared with towns without universities. It lifts the whole place

“If you look at the development of the Waterfront in recent years you realise that the university has driven a lot of this Waterfront development and it will continue to drive that Waterfront development and that actually is a big driver of Ipswich’s economy.”

Mr Lister said several “very highly skilled and world class” employees will be sought over the next five years to meet the – justifiably he argued – “high expectations” of students.

He also said he wants UCS to be a university that “works with the grain of the communities that we serve” and attracts students from across the country.

He said: “A lot of people go out of Suffolk for higher education and they never come back, and that will continue to be the case. But we want people coming the other way.

“We want to go to Leicester or Carlisle or Cardiff and go and get their young people and say come to Suffolk and study here.

“Spend your student pound here but maybe stay on here afterwards and bring your skills in to the local economy.

“Do a Masters degree here. Have higher education qualifications. I think we have suffered a lot in Suffolk from good people going away.”

Mr Lister also praised UCS for surviving a period of financial uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of its launch in 2007.

He said: “Shortly after we started, we were faced with the longest recession since the Second World War and then in 2012 the effective privatisation of higher education by the government which is a huge change; we have ridden out all of those storms despite being new, despite being small and despite the status of working with UEA and Essex which isn’t as straightforward as being independent.

“We have survived all of that and actually thrived in that environment, so to gain independence and to have the freedom of movement to give our own degrees, to determine what areas of teaching we want to teach in and to be established on an equal footing with every other university will allow us to grow.”

Mr Lister, who said he was enjoying his “challenging” job role, concluded: “If we can deliver an independent university here in Suffolk, something that is really appropriate for Suffolk, which is something that has been talked about in Suffolk for hundreds of years since Cardinal Wolsey… we have never got there and we really are very close to getting there, and I do feel very focused on that.”