'STAFFORDSHIRE University is essential to Stafford,’ the town’s MP Jeremy Lefroy has said.
Responding to concerns over the possible relocation of Staffordshire Universities Stafford campus to Stoke, Mr Lefroy said it was vital the university kept its roots in the county town for a number of reasons.
“Stafford is proud to be a university town,” said Mr Lefroy. “the university is essential to Stafford for a number of reasons.
“It provides an opportunity for people from the Stafford area to attend university near home,” he said. “This is particularly important if you are studying part-time or have a family.
“It provides highly skilled people locally for growing businesses, particularly in ICT.
“It is not coincidental that ICT is a fast-growing industry in the Stafford area with several businesses having been established by Staffordshire University graduates.”
Mr Lefroy said the work of the university in encouraging enterprise had been a lifeline for Stafford’s economy during difficult periods, including the large scale job losses arising from the difficulties at GEC.
“The University has been at the heart of the work which has been done to revive Stafford as a centre for innovation in engineering and information and communication technology.”
Mr Lefroy said the nursing school in Stafford had been ‘vital in providing high-quality nursing staff’ to the local NHS.
“Without the presence of the nursing school, it is likely that the consequences of the major problems at Stafford Hospital would have been even more severe,” he said.
“The University provides a large number of high quality employment opportunities in the Stafford area and students and staff from the University make a very substantial contribution to the local economy.”
Mr Lefroy also said he believed moving the campus location to Stoke would negatively impact the university.
“Location is very important.
“Staffordshire University benefits from having two locations (as many other universities around the country do).
“Its local profile is enhanced across a wider area and this undoubtedly helps to attract more students.”
Mr Lefroy said the status of Stafford as a university town had a positive impact on investors in the community and in return brought reputational benefits to the universities through its presence in both Stoke on Trent and Stafford.
“While recognising that the University’s estates need to be managed efficiently, it is quite possible to do that across locations in two or more towns/cities,” he said. “It would seem strange if a University which is rightly focussed on international partnerships was unable to operate across a number of sites within its own county.”
Mr Lefroy said while some staff might commute to the university it was likely, if the campus moved, all employment associated with the university would be lost to the area.
“In addition, the area would also lose the economic contribution of students to the local economy.
“Universities are increasingly centres for business formation and growth and Staffordshire University has an excellent record in this area in both Stafford and Stoke,” said Mr Lefroy. “It is clear that moving provision to Stoke is likely to reduce the impetus which the University gives to business formation and growth in Stafford.”
Mr Lefroy pointed to the two Signal Regiments moving to Stafford in 2015 and the growing ICT sector in the town as opportunities for the university in the county town.
“Servicemen and women with these skills who make their home in the Stafford area after retirement (typically after 22 years service in their early 40’s) will make an excellent skill base for growing businesses in the ICT sector,” he said. “Indeed some may well set up businesses themselves.
“The University can be at the heart of these exciting developments.
“Indeed, the University already works closely with HM Armed Forces and this is an excellent opportunity to expand that collaboration.”
Mr Lefroy said whether the controversial HS2 route was built or not Stafford would continue to be an excellent location for international links.
“It is already under 6 hours away by train from Brussels and Paris (including changeovers).
“With HS2, that could be further reduced.
“Stafford is also well served by four international airports (Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and East Midlands) all of which are growing fast,” said Mr Lefroy. “The runway extension at Birmingham and the consequent substantial expansion of its service network to China, India and several other fast growing economies is very significant.”
He said there was a lack of international education for children and young people in the West Midlands making it harder for international businesses to attract the people they need to the area because there were no schools for their children.
“Staffordshire University is both an ideal institution and site for sponsoring or establishing such an international school offering the International Baccalaureate.”
He said the UK was a ‘world-leader’ in the interplay between business, trade, corporate social responsibility and development, highlighting this as an area in which students from around the world were increasingly interested in studying and where skills were in demand.
“Yet few if any universities in the UK offer courses at undergraduate or postgraduate level in this area,” he said. “UEA, SOAS and Reading are currently leaders but even they do not integrated courses with a practical bent.
“Staffordshire University is well-placed to take a lead in establishing such courses and – being outside London and the East/South East – could offer students a cost-effective alternative in Stafford.”
Mr Lefroy said there was a great opportunity at the moment for universities to become much more closely integrated with schools and local employers so as to help young people acquire the skills which will be of greatest use to them in their future careers.
“This particularly applies to science, engineering, medicine, digital media and ICT but is by no means confined to them,” he said. “Staffordshire University in Stafford – working with the County Council and Chamber of Commerce– can become a centre of excellence for this kind of collaboration.
“Many other universities, both from the UK and internationally, are looking to expand their provision within the UK.
“There is a great opportunity for Staffordshire University, instead of reducing its presence in Stafford, to offer partnerships with those other universities so as to offer degrees and other courses jointly in Stafford. Cooperation and collaboration is increasingly the way forward in higher education.”
Mr Lefroy said Stafford and its surrounding area was ‘one of the most attractive places to live and work in the United Kingdom’.
“It is extremely well connected by road, rail and air,” he said. “It is set in the heart of beautiful countryside with easy access to Cannock Chase, the Peak District and the Staffordshire and Shropshire Hills.
“Job opportunities are increasing and unemployment is continuing to fall – Stafford constituency is in the lowest 25% of constituencies in the UK for unemployment and business formation is currently the highest it has ever been.”
He pointed to two new ‘significant’ business parks being built in the area that would provide modern locations for several thousand new jobs.
“The £150 million investment in MOD Stafford and the arrival of 1,000 more Royal Signals servicemen and servicewomen in 2015 will not only bring a welcome increase to the area’s economy, it will also mean that – over the years – several thousand highly skilled men and women will settle in the area who are likely to form businesses of their own or use their skills in other businesses.
“This in turn will mean more job and training opportunities for Staffordshire University students.”
He said the major redevelopment of the town centre in the coming 2-3 years would make Stafford one of the most attractive places in the region for shopping and entertainment.
“There are substantial housing development planned or underway in the Stafford area and this will help to ensure that there is sufficient good quality accommodation for students both when they are studying and after graduation if, as I hope, they wish to make their home in the area,” said Mr Lefroy.
“We need to remember that this is not a zero sum game for Stoke and Stafford.
“Both sites can expand their revenues with cooperation,” he said. “The market for higher education internationally is expanding rapidly.
“Both Stafford and Stoke need to make the most of that within the University.”