Clarity needed over Peterborough University

Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz
Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz
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Leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council Cllr Shaz Nawaz:

When it was announced that Peterborough was going to get a university of its own, there was much fanfare.

Seven figure sums were presented as if they were an achievement in and of itself.

Nevertheless, there is cross-party support for the idea; it’s ludicrous that the young people of Peterborough have to leave their home town to achieve their dreams, the lack of a university also missed an opportunity to build up Peterborough’s skill and knowledge bases.

Local businesses will benefit from additional trade, as well as the talent pool provided by graduates. So what has happened?

From what I can tell, work is going on in the background, but I believe there are a number of questions that need to be answered.

First, how long will the project take? It’s unclear when exactly the University of Peterborough will open its doors as a fully-fledged institution. It’s reasonable, given the amount of investment, to demand a clear timetable.

Second, what will be the University’s specialities? Academia is just as competitive as private industry: there’s a lot out there, and Peterborough needs to find its own niche in order to appeal to students both here and abroad. I suggest an avenue to explore is the digital economy: the presence of firms like BGL are indicative that Peterborough could be a centre of excellence in this field. We should also look at environmental science and engineering: we aspire to be the environmental capital of the United Kingdom, it would be prudent to put some intellectual firepower behind the effort. Perhaps we ought to also create a centre of excellence regarding social media. It’s clear that it is becoming an increasing feature of our lives, and its impact (e.g., “fake news”), can dramatically alter the course of our future: we should bring in the best minds to enhance our understanding of the phenomena.

No doubt individuals who are far more experienced in academia will have views of their own; the difficulty is that we don’t have much sight of where this is going.

A university is not just buildings nor shiny new facilities; rather, it is an opportunity to create a cutting-edge learning and research environment. The gleaming campus of the future is pleasant to consider, but it’s also the easy part: it is the people and the knowledge they bring that will make the endeavour truly worthwhile. We must ensure that the investment in the university is one which is fully thought through so that future generations gain maximum benefit.

I will continue to pursue this issue, along with the Shadow Cabinet member charged with this responsibility, Cllr Matthew Mahabadi. I will also encourage those responsible for the project to engage with the public more, so they can solicit feedback and taxpayers can have clearer sight of how their money is being spent. This is too important a project to get wrong; Labour is committed to providing the necessary scrutiny that will ensure that it’s successful.