An ideological commitment

An open letter to the vice-chancellor of the University of Brighton:

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

I came of age in and around Hastings in the mid-1990s.

I returned to the town in 2007 as part of my role as a lecturer in sociology at the University of Brighton, working half the week in what was then the fairly new University Centre Hastings.

In that time I have seen two particularly important ways in which our higher education provision has brought direct value to the town.

The first is the development of educated, critically-thinking professionals in health and social care and educational roles, of the kind so needed in Hastings.

The second, which is distinct from the first, is through providing a range of opportunities for local people to expand horizons of education otherwise foreclosed in the town.

To give an example, I found one student on our BA Applied Social Science course taking a particular interest in my own research into the sociology of outer space (looking at things such as satellite communications and surveillance, plans to explore, develop and settle other planets, and so on).

Initially I actually found myself frustrated by this.

The student had the kind of rich biography so common in Hastings – from care home to homelessness to prison – surely his work should be addressing these kinds of ‘close to home’ social problems instead?

But I realised I was falling into a trap that I have seen so many well-meaning people fall into – of thinking that higher education in Hastings must be ‘special’, inward-looking, tailored towards parochial needs, and therefore of reinforcing the educational ceiling in Hastings that the university aimed to remove.

Higher education should be about breaking down barriers to and within knowledge.

A Higher Education provision in the town that is ‘specialised’ undermines the promise of the university.

I want to voice this now because, as we all eagerly await the university’s response to the review of the campus it has commissioned, I think it is vital that the campus not only remain open, but that it remain dedicated to both these things – a breadth of provision that provides local people with the opportunity to explore knowledge without barriers, but which retains a particular focus on educating those future public servants – social workers, youth workers, probation officers, public health professionals, teachers, and so on – who are able to give something back to the town more immediately.

Maintaining and reinvigorating these commitments does not have to run counter to the aim of attracting students from further afield.

In the last nine years I have seen the experience these students have of Hastings improve dramatically.

The quality of the teaching here and the help provided by support staff at the campus have never really been in question.

But over time what I have seen is a better matching of student expectations with what the town itself has to offer. It is my belief that this appeal can be broadened still further with appropriate support from the university.

It was easy to extol the virtues of widening participation when the University Centre was first conceived, as there were various national incentives for so doing.

The university enters a period now in which the strength of this commitment will be publicly put to the test.

Nobody expects the campus to become a money-spinner for the university, but it is something the university is ideologically committed to, and which the town can ill-afford to lose.

Dr James S Ormrod

Principal Lecturer in Sociology

Society, Education and Health hub leader

Editor’s note:

Dr Ormrod’s letter was written from a personal view, not in an official capacity for the university.

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