University centres – challenger institutions

One of the strands of the White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy is that it will be made easier to set up new universities.  It is interesting, as we have noted, that the two examples given consistently by ministers are University Campus Suffolk and Hereford’s proposed New Model in Technology and Engineering.  Jo Johnson has been talking about the ability of ‘challenger institutions’ to deal with ‘cold spots’ in higher education provision.  In this regard he is returning to previous government policy which supported new ‘university centres’.  This became formalised, such that in 2009 HEFCE ran a ‘University Challenge’ exercise to approve new centres, but as support for these was left to the next Spending Review this has not been taken forward.

Although not necessarily very high profile nationally, there are a wide variety of ‘university centres’ around the country.  Some are independent operations, but most are parts of further education colleges given a special focus.  As ‘university’ is a protected name, there is an official process for applying for ‘university centre’ title , although this is under review.

University centres sit on a spectrum that runs from a full campus of a university to a quite small amount of franchised provision in a college.  Indeed, there is anger in Hastings that Brighton’s campus there is to be downgraded to a university centre.   What is clear is that these centres are at the heart of meeting the need for local provision, if, by necessity, some of their offering is rather limited.    Certainly local councils and LEPs see these as important, and are continuing to support them – as in a new centre for King’s Lynn


New University Centre at the College of West Anglia in King’s Lynn


University centres are in a tradition of the delivery of higher education via branches. Some branches have gone on to full independence; both Dundee and Newcastle were city outposts of their nearby universities.   However, it isn’t inevitable that a branch or university centre will thrive.  Attempts in Basingstoke and Swindon have closed, it looks as if Milton Keynes isn’t happy enough with its University Centre, and Scarborough are swapping provider.  Sometimes the ambition of a town isn’t matched by the provision that a university centre can offer – property developers or council leaders can have unrealistic expectations.  What is clear is that these ‘challenger institutions’ offer a much better chance of delivering widening participation to higher education than London-based for-profit colleges.

University Centres

Where are the centres?  I haven’t found a definitive list, but these all appear to use ‘University Centre’ (or ‘Campus’) in capital letters.  It’s hard to check whether they have official sanction*, so this is an unofficial list – I may easily have missed some.

University Campus Barnsley (Barnsley College & University of Huddersfield)

University Centre, Blackpool (Blackpool & the Fylde College & University of Lancaster)

University Centre Blackburn (St Mary’s College & Liverpool Hope & UCLAN)

University Centre at Blackburn College (Lancaster University)

University Centre, Boston (Boston College)

Bradford College University Centre 

Holy Cross University Centre (Bury) (Holy Cross College & Liverpool Hope, Edge Hill, Salford and Newman universities)

University Centre, Crawley (Central Sussex College & Chichester University)

University Centre Colchester (Colchester Institute & University of Essex)

University Centre Croydon (Croydon College & University of Sussex)

University Centre Doncaster (Doncaster College & University of Hull)

University Centre Farnborough (Farnborough College 

University Centre Grimsby (Grimsby College & University of Hull)

University Centre Harlow (Harlow College & Anglia Ruskin University)

Hartpury University Centre (Associate faculty of UWE)

Hereford University Centre (Herefordshire and Ludlow College & University of Worcester)

Tresham University Centre (Kettering) (Tresham College & Universities of Northampton & Bedfordshire)

University Centre Kings Lynn (College of West Anglia & Anglia Ruskin University)

Knowsley University Centre (Knowsley Community College)

University Centre Milton Keynes (University of Bedfordshire)

University Centre Peterborough (Peterborough Regional College & Anglia Ruskin University)

University Centre St Helens (St Helens College & Chester, UCLAN, Liverpool John Moores & Sheffield Hallam)

University Centre, Solihull (Solihull College & University of Warwick, Oxford Brookes University, Newman University, Birmingham City University and Coventry University)

University Centre Southend (South East Essex College & Essex and University of the Arts)

University Centre Shrewsbury (University of Chester)

University Centre Stamford (Bishop Grossteste, Bedfordshire & Northampton)

University Centre Stockport College (Liverpool John Moores &  Manchester Met)  

University Centre Telford (Telford College of Arts and Technology & University of Wolverhampton)

University Centre Thurrock (South East Essex College & Essex and University of the Arts)

University Centre Tonbridge (University of Kent)

University Centre Weston (Weston College & Bath Spa & UWE)

University Centre Worthing (Northbrook College & University of Brighton)

Yeovil College University Centre (Yeovil College & UWE, Bournemouth, Gloucestershire & Trinity St Davids)


* As the ‘university centre’ is generally a subsidiary, the HEFCE Register of Providers returns none of them in a search – potentially an issue that may hamper confidence in them.


5 thoughts on “University centres – challenger institutions

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