The new top man at Birmingham City University has targeted a spot in the top 50, and has put the creative and engineering sectors at the heart of plans.
Professor Cliff Allan, who took over as BCU’s vice chancellor in December, said it currently stands at around 60th in the list of UK universities, but he feels it can climb the list by focusing on plugging the gap for engineering skills.
Meanwhile, he told the Post the former polytechnic was working to define the attributes of a BCU graduate so employers “know what they’re buying and it does what it says on the tin”.
Prof Allan joined BCU after two years as deputy vice chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University and succeeds Prof David Tidmarsh who has retired after six years in the post.
Four months into his new role Prof Allan has big ambitions for the university, which turns over in excess of £160 million a year.
“I would like BCU to belong to the top 50 universities in the UK, it’s currently around 60, and to be seen as the university for Birmingham with a reputation for delivering to the needs of business and wider society,” he said.
“Nearly 80 per cent of BCU students are from the West Midlands and the same number will go on to work in the region.
“Increasingly universities have had to become much more business like and diversify income streams and activities.
“We’re not just about undergraduate courses, we’re responding to market needs, increasing engagement with employers and developing their workforces.
“We’re very clear about the type of university we are – developing clear routes to future jobs.
“We’re constantly strengthening our courses by having close relationships with employers and the needs of employers and business sectors.
“We’re seeing an increasing need for creative skills, a lot of engineering, where there’s a shortage, and IT and we’re the largest providers of teacher training in the city.”
Prof Allen was an MA student at the University of Birmingham in 1982 and said the city has become a more attractive place to visit, highlighting Brindleyplace, Colmore Row and Eastside – the location for the university’s new city centre campus.
Departments from the university’s Perry Barr campus and others in the city centre will migrate to Eastside over the next five years, where it will join Birmingham Metropolitan College, Aston University and the Birmingham Ormiston Academy in the city’s ‘learning quarter’.
“We’re looking forward to working with those providers,” Prof Allan said.
“We all have different strengths and it will attract other providers and investment in that part of the city.
“We’re very conscious of the effect the relocation will have on Perry Barr. We’re working very hard with the community and potential developers. Some opportunities may increase the economic benefits for the area.”
Despite a 14 per cent drop in UCAS student applications nationally in September, the first year of the £9,000 student fee cap, Prof Allan said student enrolments at BCU had ‘held up well in a very uncertain market’.
Prof Allan said: “Students are making big investment decisions so they want good value for money, access to the best facilities, access to the best learning environment and social environment.
“We have to invest to ensure that,” he added.
“We also want to increase numbers from overseas.
“International students are now Britain’s seventh largest exporting industry.
“While the Government has an clear immigration policy, having a severe restriction on student visas isn’t the answer.
“Increasing international students should be about our economic policy. The vast majority of students return to their country and are not a burden on the economy.
“Immigration policy is opening up in Canada, Australia and elsewhere and there’s a real threat that we could lose our position as the second most important destination for international students.”