This article was written for the News & Star.
The University of Cumbria, in its current form, has been going since 2007. It has multiple campus locations, but is headquartered in our city of Carlisle.
Since its creation, the University – like many other institutions – has faced a number of challenges. The pandemic, of course, meant that the teaching and student experience was interrupted – but the university also had to deal with other issues such as the particular geographical challenges of Cumbria and a highly competitive sector.
But the University of Cumbria isn’t standing still – it is moving forward in a number of ways. The first is the project to create the Carlisle Citadel Campus. This move into the city’s historic citadels and the surrounding area will transform both the university (providing a true city centre campus), but also the area itself. This has been made possible thanks mostly to £50 million being provided by the Department for Levelling Up through the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.
The university is also entering into a historic agreement with the world-renowned Imperial College London to create the first ever Cumbrian School of Medicine – to train medical students right here in Carlisle.
And the university is ramping up its apprenticeship offers – with a particular focus on closing the skills gap in Carlisle and Cumbria, reacting to the needs of our businesses and public sector.
Why is this all a good thing for people in Carlisle who are long past their student days (such as myself!), you might reasonably ask. Well, first of all, by having a full campus presence in the city centre, the University of Cumbria will be anchored in Carlisle. This means that the identity of university will be one that is wrapped up with our city – giving the university a greater sense of identity with the community, but also ensuring that Carlisle is itself is an integral part of the student experience.
Of course, this will have immediate benefits as students come into the city centre much more – supporting local businesses. But even more importantly, when the students have graduated they will have had the Carlisle experience. They will know and identify with the city much more, they will appreciate the offer we have, and they will be much more aware of the opportunities available. Couple this with the apprenticeship and vocational offers that the university is focusing on, and this will mean that we will have more skilled graduates staying in the local area. This is exactly what we need as a city, and a region, to ensure that we can improve our businesses and services.
This development will go hand in hand with the £28m redevelopment of our station – truly transforming what has been a historically under-used part of the city. The term “levelling up” has come in for some criticism – but I can’t think of a better example of what it can mean in reality than the citadels and station redevelopment. Skills, environment, transport, economy – all will come together as a result of the development, and we will see the benefit as a city and a region. I hope the University of Cumbria will be a welcome and important presence in the city for many years to come.