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The new campus on the Rock – part 2

Last week we explored education in Gibraltar and this week the new university on the Rock was inaugurated. Education and Justice Minister Gilbert Licudi explains the aims for the new institution.

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NS: The new university is going to welcome its first intake of students at the end of this month. But what’s the incentive for them to go there rather than benefit from a bit of (fully funded) travel?

GL: We expect that most students who would have thought of travelling for higher education will still do so. We’ve made it absolutely clear that the Gibraltar University is not going to be a replacement for any kind of scheme the Government has, therefore our scholarship system will remain in place with its commitment to fund overseas study.

There are a number of elements here, though. First, there are some students who simply don’t want to go away. They are in year 13 and they want to stay at home, so the university offers an opportunity to those students. Other students who go away and come back, whether they don’t like living abroad or they’ve chosen an unsuitable course, they come back from abroad and again, the opportunity of being able to study locally might appeal to them.

There will also be those who have gone off and successfully completed their studies and may be working, but want to study for a PhD. They may want to research in Gibraltar because it offers a number of opportunities, not just from the university point of view but generally, because of our marine environment for example. So there will be an appeal for some people to go and do further education in Gibraltar.

And there will be some people who work here without having had the opportunity to go abroad who will want part time study while working, and the university will offer that. That’s all an offering which will attract and benefit local students without detracting from the opportunities they have to study abroad.

But the university will be broader than that. We’re aiming to attract international students: Gibraltar really is a unique location, it’s fabulously placed and the institution we’ve built will be a very attractive proposition for first degrees, second degrees or research.

NS: How many places will it have and what will the subject specialisms be?

GL: The university will expand and develop as we go along. We have any universities in the UK, some with 20,000 students, some with 30,000 – they didn’t start off with that number, they started off small. I travelled to a campus in Singapore where they started off with one course and 40 students, they now have 9000 students.

Realistically, Gibraltar is a small place and therefore this isn’t going to be a place that will cater for 20,000-30,000 but we are talking of the possibility of expanding to 1000-2000 as a medium term objective. Initially, the courses we will be offering, as we need to start in a meaningful way, being careful not to be overambitious at the beginning and allowing for expansion, we’re probably going to have between 100-150 students enrolled in the university. I have no doubt we will be able to expand in the future.

One of the crucial things we will need to expand in the future is student accommodation and the lead-in time for students who are in year 12 and thinking about applying to various institutions. It takes time for a new university to gather momentum. We will be building accommodation to attract international students: as you might imagine, private accommodation is difficult to come by here because it’s a small place, so building accommodation will solve that problem.

NS: Will you be establishing links with other universities?

GL: Absolutely. That is one of the crucial elements of this project, not just because we’re starting out but because links with other institutions really is the order of the day in global institutions.

As part of the journey to set up this university I visited a lot of others in the world. I’ve been to Malta, UK, the Seychelles, the Far East and Brazil, and we’ve developed a lot of links with a lot of institutions. The initial offering we’re having from September is already a product of some of collaborations. We’re offering degrees which are part of the University of London’s international programmes, degrees in accounting and finance and banking. We’re also offering a BSc in nursing, which is being done in conjunction with Kingston University, so it’s being validated and accredited by Kingston. We’re developing a school of hospitality on which we’re collaborating with Oxford Brookes University, and we’re developing a joint masters programme, which is a two-centre programme between the University of Gibraltar and the University of the Seychelles, so students can study at a Master’s level the marine environment, spending some time here looking at the Mediterranean and Atlantic and some time in the Seychelles studying the Indian Ocean. It’s not just because we’re new, some of the universities I visited are hundreds of years old and collaboration is important to them all.

NS: And how about links with industry and potential employers?

GL: That’s another crucial element. The university is not just going to have the pure academic programmes, it’s going to be much more than that. As part of the university we’re going to have the Institute of Professional Development, with links to various areas in industry to provide professional development for people already working in industry. We’re working with industry to develop specific short courses, besides those needed to qualify to enter certain professions. We’re working on certain short courses, whether for the finance centre, the hospitality industry or elsewhere, these are courses we’re establishing and they will be an integral part of the university. One of the reasons for that is that we don’t just see it as an academic institution but as an integral part of the community. The reaction we’ve had from industry has been overwhelming; we’ve had a great deal of support and a great deal of collaboration and that’s clearly going to continue as one of the lynchpins of the university.

The University of Gibraltar was inaugurated on 21 September with students taking their place on the 28th.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.