Are we ready for a University of Guernsey? by Peter Roffey
Thursday 10th October 2013, 5:00PM BST.
WITH so much attention being paid to the controversial plans to rationalise Guernsey’s primary schools, there’s been less focus on the other big educational issue coming before the States in October.
I’m talking about the private-sector plans to create a small, high status university in Guernsey. While it doesn’t rely on taxpayers’ cash, the scheme, if it went ahead, would obviously have a big impact on many aspects of island life.
I suppose the first question is, would it work? Could the not-for-profit organisation behind the plans attract sufficient finance, quality tutors and up to 2,000 eager students? The cynical answer is, ‘who cares?’ If there’s no risk to the public purse, then it’s no skin off our noses if it fails. More germane is the question of whether it would be a good thing for Guernsey if they did manage to pull it off. There are arguments both ways.
I think it’s beyond doubt that there would be some economic benefits. Jobs would be created directly to run the institution and indirectly as the hundreds of international students spent money in the local economy. Transport links would be boosted as students and their families travelled to and from the island – albeit with that travel peaking at certain defined times of year.
What about the impact on our population?
On the downside, for a big chunk of the year, there would be about 2,000 more people on the rock than there otherwise would have been. As someone who has often expressed concerns about overcrowding affecting our quality of life, that obviously worries me. These extra residents would use our roads, our water supply and our health service, putting extra strain on Guernsey’s infrastructure. On the other hand, they would be very much a transitory population, so is it really so much different in population terms than if we saw a sudden revival of mass tourism?
What about the teaching staff?
I don’t know the details. Would it mean a whole raft of housing licences or would the core staff be quite small, with other tutors coming in from external institutions to deliver specific parts of the degree courses? Then how much teaching space would be required and where could it be located?
What about the halls of residence, or whatever they call student accommodation these days? If hundreds of international students – many from well-to-do backgrounds – were suddenly allowed to compete freely on the local rental market, it would instantly have a disastrous impact on Guernsey’s housing situation. On the other hand, with a little lateral thinking, there are ways around that.
What about the demographic impact? Certainly it would instantly provide an ageing population with an injection of new, young blood. But being temporary residents, it wouldn’t solve the projected shortfall of people of working age – except maybe in respect of seasonal holiday jobs.
One of the aspects I would personally love is the increase in Guernsey’s ethnic diversity. While I love my island, I have to confess that it’s not the most cosmopolitan place in the world. Suddenly seeing students from Brazil, China, Kenya and Canada would really make the place more colourful and expose local youngsters to fresh ideas and insights.
What about local students?
Would they wish to study at the University of Guernsey? We are told they would get preferential rates and the target would be 20% local undergraduates. Personally, I suspect many local 18-year-olds would prefer to leave the island and have the whole ‘university experience’ rather than continue living at home. On the other hand, some might prefer to stay at home and it would be a real boon for those who may find it impossible to study off island because of family or other commitments.
So, am I in favour or against?
I’m really not sure yet. It’s certainly an exciting idea with many upsides.
And crucially it’s not asking for any public cash. On the other hand, the more you think about it, the more the practical obstacles rear their head.
In fact, there are so many questions that need answering that it’s hard to know how our deputies can decide whether to back the idea at the end of October. I suppose they really have to decide if it’s a concept worth exploring further to see if it can be made to work without too many downsides.
Purely on that basis, they should vote ‘pour’.