New Hope for Crichton Campus

From The Herald, 11/07/07

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Bruised and battered after an epic 100-mile protest hike, a group of students arrived at Glasgow University yesterday to confront Principal Sir Muir Russell and were greeted by news their campus could be saved.

The students made the five-day walk from Dumfries to Glasgow, protesting against a decision to halt undergraduate admissions at Crichton Campus. Glasgow University, facing an £800,000 financial deficit, decided to withdraw its undergraduate liberal arts courses, with immediate effect.

In protest, the group of students – several of them parents – set off from Crichton Campus, Dumfries, last Thursday at 9.30am and finally arrived at the university’s main gate yesterday at 12.30pm.

Sir Muir was presented with a selection of essays by Crichton students explaining why they believed Glasgow University must continue there, and a drawing of the Rutherford McCowan Building by local artist Hugh Bryden, who supports their campaign.

 

The presentation was made by six-year-old Caidhn Downes, son of walk leader Wendy Downes, 33, a single mother, who completed the trek in time to graduate today with an honours degree in liberal arts.

Caidhn said to Sir Muir: “These people have done a really long walk, so please can you keep the Crichton Campus open?”

A review is currently in place, led by the Scottish Funding Council, which allocates resources to universities and colleges, to develop a new funding strategy which will allow undergraduate teaching to recommence at Crichton in future.

Sir Muir told the walkers he was still hopeful that a more immediate solution could be found.

He said: “We were highly disappointed when the Scottish Funding Council was not able to help us eliminate our funding deficit, but we are now in new discussions with stakeholders and I am hopeful we can find a funding strategy which will allow us to break even.

“Since the election, there has been a change in the political situation which has thrown some weight back on us continuing to offer undergraduate arts courses there.

“The ball is now in the court of the funding council and the minister to find a way of solving this.”

Ms Downes, limping from an knee injury sustained on the walk, added: “One day, Caidhn may well follow me to Crichton, so I hope his presentation will emphasise how important Glasgow University is to the future educational wellbeing of young people in the region. The walk was very difficult. At times, we all felt like giving up but we are determined to let the principal know how strongly we feel.”

Her fellow marcher, and parent, Eryl Shields, 46, said the 20-mile-a-day hike had been “very arduous”. She added: “At least once a day, I thought I cannot go on but I had to continue – we all felt we had to do something very powerful to emphasise just how important Crichton is to the people of Dumfries.”

Another marcher, Crichton graduate Victoria Pyle, 22, from Edinburgh, said she hoped the march would help “reconnect” the two Glasgow University campuses.

She said: “We may be in two different places but we are one institution. Crichton is a fundamental part of Glasgow University. It is a common misconception Crichton is full of Dumfries locals who were rejected from Glasgow and Edinburgh.

“I chose Crichton for its peaceful campus and its reputation for research excellence. It led me to an excellent job in politics as an information researcher.

“People don’t understand the value of Crichton until they experience it for themselves.”

The demonstrators were backed by Alasdair Morgan, MSP for Galloway & Upper Nithsdale.

He said: “I am here because I support the marchers. Glasgow was core to the set-up of Crichton and it has delivered great success so far.

“There is no rational educational argument for Glasgow to leave Crichton. South-west Scotland is deprived of higher education facilities.

“We need not just technical courses but also arts degrees, and Glasgow is key to that.

“There is a review under way and hopefully we will hear something positive in September. It may be a U-turn but politicians are used to doing U-turns. When you make a mistake, it is good to own up to it.”

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