The University of South Wales (USW) has announced that the Caerleon campus which houses more than a dozen buildings including the century-old former Monmouthshire Training College, will be closing after a review of its estate. The USW was formed in 2013 when The University of Wales, Newport and Glamorgan merged with each other to become the biggest university in the South Wales region. The USW are claiming it will cost too much to get the Caerleon campus up to an acceptable standard, saying it would cost them approximately £32 million over a 15 year period.
The Caerleon campus is best known for its courses in education and caters for around 7,000 students. The campus is also Newport’s third highest employer in the region. No new students will begin their studies in Caerleon and the closure has put 145 jobs at risk and many are worried for the future of Newport’s economy.
The institution is to focus on the Newport city campus. A spokesman for the Welsh Government said the reconfiguration agenda focused on the creation of fewer, larger higher education institutions but overall management of the USW estate “is a matter for them.”
The Vice President of Newport Students’ Union Drew Burman said: “I have had a lot of complaints from former and current students and members of staff. People want to know the real reason behind the closure of the campus. We have been told that the upkeep costs are too great. There is a desire not to have a mishmash of courses so there is a focus on faculty specific campuses. The problem with this is that there are a lot of courses that have become world famous and they have their history in Newport. It is unfair that Newport is loosing some of its identity and that Treforest and Cardiff are unfairly benefiting when they already have enough to offer. One positive thing we have is the unity that the students and staff found together from fighting side-by-side to protect something that we love.”
Many students have voiced their unhappiness over the closure of Caerleon Campus and protests have been staged.
Stephen Hughes is a mature student who has lived on campus since 2004 while he obtained a foundation Degree in Social Media, a BA (Hons) Degree in Law, a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Development (PG Dip) and a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA).
Stephen said: “As a mature student studying and living on Caerleon campus for over ten years I have had a wonderful opportunity to fulfill my dreams of obtaining a university education and I am greatly saddened to hear that it is to close. Universities are perhaps the keenest participants in the surge of globalization that has swept the world in the past decade.”
Stephen Hughes considers that the decision to close the campus is motivated by short-term financial gain. He said: “Property prices here are extremely high and the site is up for redevelopment for short-term exploitation at the determent of the long-term good of the student and the wider community.”
When asked what he thought is the most appropriate future for the site Stephen said: “I would prefer to see the building remain a focus for education and to continue to provide a positive learning environment for local people so that they have a realistic opportunity of gaining the many skills needed to thrive in a modern global economy.”
The college’s board said the Newport city campus would have an immediate £3m cash injection. Governors said the Newport campus is newer and cheaper to run than the one in Caerleon. They are already looking at an expansion along the waterfront, which could cost up to £10m. “Despite its history and the affection in which it is held by many it does not make financial or strategic sense and is not in the best interests of our students in delivering an exceptional student experience, to continue to invest in the Caerleon campus,” said a spokesman.
Stephen Hughes concluded: “It appears that the decision makers do not want a well educated society capable of free thought and education is now a business and here in Wales they are changing it from a high quality important life improving experience into a cash cow. It is putting profit before people.”
However – more recently parts of the former University of South Wales Caerleon Campus have been awarded listed status by the Welsh Government.
One of the proposals was residential housing that would see the training college demolished to make way for between 200 to 400 houses built on the site- a suggestion which sparked anger and protests from Caerleon residents. As well as the main building, the Principal’s Residence, Gate Piers and Caretaker’s / Gardener’s Lodge, which are also located on the site, have also been given Grade II listed status.
Chairman of Caerleon Civic Society Mike Singleton welcomed the announcement and he said: “I am thrilled to bits. That building is so important to the spirit and heart of Caerleon. Listing is great, but it is just the start of the process.”
In a report by Cadw the building is listed for its special architectural interest as a well preserved example of early 20th century educational architecture and that it is a teacher training college of “fine quality and character.” The report says: “Its form and appearance reflects the functions of the College and the requirements of teacher training during this period.
Listen to Stephen Hughes’ interview here: