Meanwhile, Edinburgh-based Heriot Watt’s west-coast rival, Glasgow Caledonian, has opened a campus in London to help it to attract international post-graduates, and, also this year, a nursing college in Bangladesh. Edinburgh’s Napier University has opened a biofuel research centre in Hong Kong within the last few months and an office in India last year.
These bold steps come as Scottish universities attempt to get ahead of their rivals in attracting new funding streams amid fears of major cuts in public funding. Scottish universities have had a real-terms freeze to their funding this year and widely expect cuts in future. The current SNP minority government has already abolished a graduate endowment scheme and any prospect of a UK-wide graduate tax is seen as political “jam tomorrow”.
Science and technology specialist Heriot-Watt University already awards almost half of all Scottish degrees granted to students abroad – most delivered through partner institutions. It is now trebling its student numbers in the Middle East, from 1,500 to 4,500 next year – while facing a tight cap on numbers at home.
The new Dubai campus will include student accommodation with a food court and banking facilities, a multi-purpose auditorium for 800 people, engineering laboratories, ICT labs with video-conferencing facilities and state-of-the-art fashion and design studios.
Construction and design students will take part in the construction process, making frequent visits to the 28,000 sq m (300,000 sq ft) site, and the university is starting a new module on dealing with waste generated by building work.
The head of international development, Ruth Moir, says that while the move is part of a drive to reduce dependence on public money, “providing high-quality education is our priority. This was something we had been planning – we are not doing it because of the recession”.
She says the Dubai move is not a way of “bankrolling” the university’s greenbelt campus and business park, at Riccarton on the western edge of Edinburgh.
Glasgow Caledonian University‘s new London campus makes it the first Scottish university to offer an English base. GCU London will deliver a range of the university’s specialist postgraduate courses – in finance, risk management and fashion – predominantly to international students, starting this September.
The head of communications, Alison Arnot, says several faculties within the university felt they would be better placed to attract international students if they could offer an option to study in London. Glasgow-based academics will travel to the campus at Spitalfields to teach, and the university is also using its pied-a-terre to attract academics who want to be based there, but who will also visit the 17,000 Glasgow-based students. The university already operates the Caledonian College of Engineering in Oman, which has almost 3,000 students. Arnot says the university hopes the London campus will attract well-funded overseas students. “We do hope it will bring in funding, which will help with all of our activities. Glasgow Caledonian University has a very strong social mission. We use our skills not just to help individuals, but to help the wider society.”
The university, which has strong links with Nobel peace prize winner and anti-poverty expert Muhammad Yunus, is currently in talks with the Scottish government about opening the first Grameen microfinance bank in the UK in the deprived area of Sighthill. The bank, which is based on a model devised by Yunus in Bangladesh, is targeted at the poorest in society. Arnot says: “The money will not be for a new suite. It is to help people to move on in their lives and to provide themselves with an income through social enterprise or setting up a small business.”
GCU also operates an eye clinic in Sighthill, aimed at diagnosing early conditions that cause preventable blindness. “As in many deprived areas, there are issues such as people not wanting to leave their own communities and being wary of engaging with health professionals,” says Arnot.
GCU’s Grameen Caledonian Nursing College in Bangladesh – a country that currently trains more doctors than nurses – accepted its first 40 students this year. The criteria for entry are that students should be female, aged 20-22, should have achieved well in science at school, and are the daughters of Grameen Bank borrowers.
Professor Pamela Gillies, principal and vice-chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, says: “Our university is committed to our social mission, ‘for the common wealth’. We have a great deal to learn from our friends and colleagues in Bangladesh and a great deal to share. It’s an exciting time.”
Earlier this year also, Edinburgh Napier University, which is home to the first biofuel research centre in the UK dedicated to the development of sustainable biofuel, opened a sister centre in Hong Kong. The new centre will focus on the development of renewable energy via second-generation biofuels from a diverse range of non-food crops and waste matter – waste disposal being a particular issue for the crowded island of Hong Kong.
Professor Dame Joan Stringer, principal and vice-chancellor of Napier, says: “Scotland is at the forefront of renewable energy research, and this new partnership is an important step in the global search for new and more sustainable energy solutions.”
The university has also opened an office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, which coordinates the efforts of its recruitment agents to send students to Edinburgh and is exploring the possibility of opening a campus there in partnership with local institutions.