Artist's impression of Glasney Collegiate Church 1200's Image © Shaun Broderick – www.kernow3d.com
Article by Sue Colenso
Falmouth has evolved as a town over 400 years. As a sea port it has had always had changing populations. In the past Falmouth and Penryn have had closer ties with overseas than with the rest of UK as transport was easier by sea. Consulates serving over 20 foreign countries and thriving synagogue in Falmouth's Packet Ship heyday. Cornish have always had to travel abroad and up-country for work - economic migrants. Penryn had its own University - Glasney College in the Middle Ages. Look at local surnames and you will find many local families of Scandinavian, Dutch etc etc origin, many of them seafarers. In 1950's most families in town had relative(s) in Merchant or Royal Navy travelling the world, or working in the Docks.
Reputation and importance of the internationally recognised Falmouth School of Art and Camborne School of Mines developed around 100 years ago attracting students from all over the world and UK but also strong percentage of local students.
From mid 20th Century - young people from Cornwall have to travel out of county for higher education. But at least there were grants for maintenance and transport and free tuition.
Some degree level and above courses began to be available at the further education colleges as well at Falmouth School of Art (then Falmouth College of Art) and Camborne School of Mines.
In the 1990's the idea of Combined Universities of Cornwall (CUC) was set up to address the Cornish brain drain and bring prosperity back into one of the poorest parts of Europe and UK.
All of this was made available with EU funding.
Difficulties of increased costs for students all over UK; introduction of student loans rather than grants; no grants for housing; introduction of tuition fees; high transport costs for Cornish students to go out of county - all impacted newly developed higher education provision and in particular university campus.
There was rivalry between towns in Cornwall before a location for CUC university campus was eventually decided (eg Penzance and Scorrier area were considered before deciding on Tremough).
There was dismay in the Camborne area when the Camborne School of Mines, part of Exeter University, and previously located at Cornwall College, was moved to Tremough.
Gradual expansion of Tremough and many courses from Woodlane campus in Falmouth also moved there and more courses were developed in both universities.
And more courses were development in both the universities.
There was dismay in the Totnes area in Devon when Dartington College moved to be incorporated into Falmouth University.
All of this was colonial style expansion.
Students need somewhere to live and traditionally prefer not to live in halls of residence in second or third years so move into shared houses in Falmouth and Penryn
Market forces drive development of universities because of the rapid increase in population and the failure of the universities to build accommodation for the new students before they arrived. In other words, there were fewer homes than residents, the shortage of supply pushed up rent prices and the cost of purchasing a house.
Universities take on more students than they can provide accommodation for.
Rise of unscrupulous landlords and letting agents that let poorly maintained terraced houses, once available for the existing population, with high rents available for students who rent by the room and beyond affordability of local families who rent by the house. Landlords make as much as one and a half times more renting to students.
The proportion of local students living in their parental home lessens as the university expands.
Many students from elsewhere appear to be well-off (e.g. many have parents who can afford to buy properties in Falmouth for their children to share with fellow students).
How does this appear to local young people, whether students or not, whose own parents are on low wages in Cornwall or recognise the inequity faced by the local population?
The current feeling amongst students and staff is that the Universities are risking their reputations built over the past 100 years, by taking on more students, limiting staff numbers, impoverishing conditions for students and staff within the university and outside with accommodation problems.
People in Falmouth and Penryn are very unhappy about the lack of affordable housing to rent or buy for local young people.
People in Falmouth and Penryn grumble about parking problems, seemingly exacerbated by students with cars. Universities say they discourage cars but the reality is that if students want to go surfing etc or anywhere not on regular, frequent public transport routes then they need their own transport as do most local families.
Public Transport provision has increased enormously since the growth of the Universities and EU funding. However, it is still way too expensive for local families and not comprehensive enough. In London, school age children have free public transport at any time not so in Cornwall. Students can purchase concession passes but not to be used out of Uni hours.
Some thoughts for solutions
Recent positive initiatives between Falmouth College (Sixth Form) and Falmouth University for co-teaching and guaranteed interviews. Could this opportunity be expanded to other Sixth Forms and FE Colleges in the area if not already happening?
The Combined Universities in Cornwall need to further promote their services to local young people, providing awards and bursaries to encourage students from low income families living at home.
The Local Authorities need to work together with the Universities and the townspeople to find common ground, to share the opportunities the universities offer and to decide the appropriate proportion of students to townspeople to be sustainable in the Falmouth/Penryn area. They also need to consider developing University provision in alternative towns in Cornwall as expected originally.