Stockton Campus, from Giving New Leaf to Post-Industrial Teeside to What?  

Queen’s Campus, Stockton, is where Durham University’s Medicine programme, among other things, is based. This year, the University announced that the operation would be shut down, with most courses relocating to Durham and the site being turned into an International Foundation centre.

The first intake of students Stockton-on-Tees campus ever had was in 1992. Since then, as a working paper from UCL shows, the campus in itself has developed impressive strengths in Medical science, Business and Environmental Sciences altogether. The idea that led the campus to be built was, in an age where education became a necessity for working conditions, to accept over-25 students that were suddenly cut off from the job market by the forced deindustrialisation of the Thatcher government. At that time, to increase student numbers was a necessity for management to shelter itself from redundancies. The site itself was inaugurated by the Queen in 1993 as University Campus Stockton (UCS). It was realised in collaboration between the University, the local authority and a development corporation. After an initial period of uncertainty (it is reported that of the first intake of students, less than 85% continued in Stockton Campus), further funding from the EU and private investors, majorly the Wolfson Fund, have made it possible for the campus to flourish. As many of the spaces aimed at the campus redevelopment are empty and as the NHS has agreed a £5 million grant in 2014 to expand the research facilities, the University has recently unveiled plans to move the two colleges, Stephenson and Snow, to the central campus in Durham.

This risks to end the story of an attempt by previous University administrations to engage purposefully with an area that in the 1990s was blighted by a 20% higher than national average mortality rate, high crime rate and low tertiary education attainment. Those goals were largely unattained by 2014, but at the time, acting Vice Chancellor Ray Hudson believed that it was worth it to keep trying and to invest in partnerships with major industries to achieve those objectives and to fulfil the vision of a campus that would act as a kick-starter for a variety of degrees not necessarily fitting the university Curriculum stereotype. Recent plans unveiled as moving the two colleges to Durham and transforming the entire campus into an International Foundation college seem, in my opinion, to go far from the original intent. But a stable 2000 graduates, of whom 45% from the local area (a percentage that is indeed higher than in any single Durham college), is an achievement that cannot be ignored. Engaging non-traditional groups, such as former workers and people that come from a problematic background, is something that would indeed be more difficult when the entire campus is due to be refashioned as an international foundation college.

In this regard, I can weight two different assessments coming from local politicians. Stockton Council Leader Bob Cook (Labour) claimed in the Northern Echo that “the university has put significant investment into creating superb facilities here and its commitment to maintaining a strong international presence in Stockton is clear recognition of their quality” (10/5/2016). However, in a personal email exchange I had with Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham, he said, and I quote “I share your [Durham University Students’] concerns but sadly the ship has left port and the final decision has been taken with the colleges moving to Durham and a new international foundation college established on the site – well that’s the plan”. He also added “I did meet with the VC but it’s clear there is no retreat from the decision.  A sad business all round – and a blow for Stockton as a whole”.

As students that are approaching a big event, the Alternative Open Days, I think we should reckon the disappointment many of us would have that the University has so little faith in the local area and its inhabitants. As a European Student that will be graduating in two days in BA Philosophy and Politics, I am ashamed. In the turn of a month, not only has the north east lost Europe as a source of redevelopment and funding, but it also has seen one of its major powerhouses probably shutting its doors to local development.

Sources:

I want to thank Alex Cunningham MP for sharing his concerns with me

Graheme Hetherington, Plans revealed for Future of Durham University’s Queen’s campus in Stockton  http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/14483374.Plans_revealed_for_future_of_Durham_University_s_Queen_s_Campus_in_Stockton/

Dr. Clare Melhuish, “CASE STUDY 1: Queen’s Campus: Durham University in Stockton, widening access to higher education on a brownfield site”, University College London Working Paper, September 2015

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