Another university looks to come to ‘dead’ Wye

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The London headquarters of the School of Oriental and African Studies

SoasThe acclaimed University of London college the School of Oriental and African Studies is negotiating to come to the Imperial College campus in Wye. Any SOAS base in the village is likely to be small — possibly fewer than ten people — but, if the deal goes ahead, this would be Imperial’s second quiet handover of parts of the college to other institutions this year. All existing undergraduate teaching is being passed to the University of Kent which is predicting a student population of almost five hundred next year, almost as big as Wye’s historical peak.

Does this really look like the dead village some would have you believe, one in desperate need of resuscitation by a grandiose plan for housing and industrial estates? And who else is Imperial talking to as it quietly negotiates its withdrawal from the college it took over only six years ago?

SOAS is a highly regarded international institution based in Bloomsbury. It is one of several academic organisations which we understand have been looking at Wye’s college accommodation after feelers from Imperial were put out on the university network. SOAS records indicate that the Wye discussions were taking place as early as last June and possible before. The school told save-wye, ‘Exploratory discussions are taking place between SOAS and a small former academic section of Wye College. If these early discussions progress well, SOAS may initiate formal discussions with Imperial College. To confirm, no agreement has been reached between the parties involved at this stage.’

The University of Kent deal and now SOAS’s negotiations demonstrate how perfectly duped Kent County Council and Ashford Borough Council were in signing the original Concordat. One of the reasons they did so, said KCC’s Pete Raine back in April, was ‘partly to stop Imperial walking away from Wye altogether’. In fact, as we now know Imperial had already decided to do just this, whether the Concordat was signed or not, hopefully with £100 million in cash. Within months it was already deep in discussion with SOAS — and perhaps other colleges — about taking over some or all of the college. The very idea that Wye as an educational institution was dead in the water without Imperial was a non-runner from the start.

Here are a few quotes that ought to haunt those who made them…

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Oops! An extract from Pete Raine’s presentation to KCC’s environment and regeneration policy overview committee last April. At the time Imperial were already deep in discussions to abandon college activities in the village altogether.

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ABC leader Paul Clokie in February on why he was still sticking by Imperial: they were ‘contemplating investment’ of scale in the area. In fact they were planning to get out of education altogether and take £100 million of profit from Wye’s countryside with them.

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Come again? The script written by Ernst & Young for our tame councillors to follow when talking about the Concordat. It may have been the beginning but Imperial never had any intention of sticking around for ‘much work to do’ on the academic front once it had picked up its cheque.

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Oops! Ashford Council chief executive David Hill in a letter to the Stour Fisheries Association (and others) on December 7 after the signing of the second Concordat. The only important role Imperial wanted in the village at this stage was to milk it for profit.

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And the latest canard, which we revealed only last week. This was the line given to all members of Project Alchemy, including Paul Clokie, David Hill and Pete Raine, by Ernst & Young last December entitled ‘Wye Concordat: Frequently Asked Questions’. In fact, Imperial would, within months, be announcing the transfer of its undergraduate courses to the University of Kent, and entering into negotiations with SOAS, and possibly others, to take over the remaining parts of the college.

The idea that Wye College needed to be saved by the construction of a science park, industrial estate and thousands of houses was a myth from the start… and even if it had gone ahead, Imperial’s presence would not have involved teaching a single student, only commercial research work in the new industrial estate and fuel refinery it hoped to build on AONB land currently given over to farming.

The University of Kent predicts its student population at Wye will have risen to 477 next year. As the graph below shows, even without any input whatsoever from other incoming colleges like SOAS, this would give the village a student population of the size it possessed before the growth of the 1980s and close to the historical undergraduate high of six hundred in the 1990s.

Making a success out of all this is another thing, of course. Imperial failed miserably. But clearly there are others who think they can do better. You have to ask: could anyone do worse?

Studentnum

Click for greater detail. These figures include undergraduates and postgraduates.

SOAS background information

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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One Response to Another university looks to come to ‘dead’ Wye

  1. Paul Burnham says:

    The Wye Distance Learning Programme depends on the University of London’s external degree system and its network of examining centres.
    Imperial College are about to sever their last ties with the U. of London, so alternative links are being considered: one with SOAS is only one of the possibilities. There is no suggestion of SOAS or any part of it moving to Wye, just the DLP with its 14 Wye staff and 800 students worldwide having
    a new ‘umbrella’. The macabre thing is that one of the supposed advantages of linking with Imperial (rather than, say, Kent) was that Wye would remain within the University of London.

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