Interesting move…UTAS

In recent days there has been talk about moving the Launceston campus of UTAS, currently housed at Newnham, to Inveresk. It has certainly brought about some discussion via the Examiner article on May 23. Universities finding themselves placed in a central location within a city or town is nothing new. In the USA there are numerous college towns (here is an incredible list), the best 50 of these have been listed due to meeting the following criteria (as listed via the link):

  • Livability

  • Student-to-resident ratio

  • Cultural Offerings

  • School Presence

  • Large Employers

Right now I am participating in the ICQI Conference at one of them, University of Illinois. I have attended university at a college town – Ohio University. I have also attended conferences at Michigan University in East Lansing and University of Wisconsin in Maddison, which are college towns.

Just visiting a college town provides an interesting insight. Living in a college town provides a deeper experience and is certainly interesting on a range of levels. The town I have lived in for 11 months is known as a city, the City of Athens, and has a population of around 24000 (2010 Census data) and has a similar student population. It is situated in Athens County, which could be described as being of low socioeconomic status (sourced from Healthy Ohio) :

Screenshot 2015-05-23 10.19.20

So what does it mean to be a college town? How does this impact on the permanent residents of the town/city and surrounding areas? As with all things there are positives and negatives, not to mention the interesting, and there are cultural aspects with regard to the USA to consider when looking at these. Furthermore, how the university came to be in the town/city and how it now exists and inter-relates with its community are important factors to consider.

So here are some interesting aspects with regard to Ohio University and Athens:

  • First and second year students are expected to live on campus.
  • Sporting teams hold great importance and attract remarkable financial contributions.
  • The university has a range of benefactors.
  • Past students are known as Bobcats.
  • There are 19 bars/pubs down the main street (Court St) or close by. Court St runs through part of the university, there are no bars/pubs on the campus –  make your own conclusions regarding the night life on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Ohio University has a reputation of being a party university.
  • The streets of Athens are bustling when students are attending classes, at the end of semester the streets are quiet.
  • Some businesses close up over the holiday breaks, their business model is clearly catering for the student market.
  • There are gorgeous college greens, which I have experienced at other colleges/universities in college towns, that have beautiful old trees and just ask you to sit, listen, think, consider and converse.
  • There are numerous festivals, many named after streets (the residents of the street throw a party each year – the residents are students) and other festivals that reportedly bring up to 10000 visitors to the town (such as one called Number Fest and of course Halloween).
  • Ohio University is a significant employer in the town, in fact it is the largest employer in the Athens County.
  • Currently those employed at the university are able to send their children to Ohio University (OU) without tuition charges.
  • There is a richness brought to the town through the multicultural student population that adds diversity to both OU and the town.
  • The town is historically connected to the university, it opened its doors in 1808.
  • Athens is a diverse place, it has what I would call an eclectic population and as a result I have enjoyed the local farmers market, yoga, cobbled streets and wonderful walking and bike pathways.
  • OU provides incredible transport around its various buildings to support student attendance
  • There is a love/hate relationship that exists between the locals and the students, well I should just say I hear that coming from the locals, as at the beginning of each semester their lives change due to the influx of students.
  • OU run a kids outreach program during school holidays.
  • There is a large number of empty housing through the summer due to students being the main market regarding rentals.
  • OU endeavours to build family connectedness by having “Mom’s Weekend”, “Dad’s Weekend” “Parents Weekend” and “Siblings Weekend” – I am sure there are more. Hotel accommodation is sold out at this time and one must remember that many of the students at OU are not from the local area. The number of hotels is surprising for such a small town, especially considering it is out of the way from any major location.
  • Of the 17551 students from the state of Ohio who attended Ohio University in the Fall of 2013 only 1182 actually came from Athens County.
  • A large number of graduate students are employed as Graduate Assistants or Teaching Assistants.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I ponder the concept being put forward regarding the move of UTAS from Newnham to Inveresk my interest is peaked somewhat. I’m interested in what the Launceston City Council and UTAS are considering with regard to ensuring that the daily life of Launceston is positively impacted, with particular regard to the student population being so obviously placed in the city centre and the space/vibe it will create. I am also interested in whether research will remain on the agenda of the Inveresk campus, after all there have been significant budget cuts regarding research via the Federal Budget coupled with the potential deregulation.

Speaking with other people, who have lived in college towns, it appears that the student-to-resident ratio has a significant impact on what a university’s impact is like on the town centre. From my personal observations, when the university is the only significant employer in the town employment opportunities are obviously limited and impactful. I have certainly seen this in Athens. Careful planning is required with regard to infrastructure and services along with the space and buildings in general, with a keen focus on creating a positive interplay between the different groups that use the city. Being centrally placed in the city of Launceston leads me to see the university increasing its connection, collaboration and community involvement with the city and its people. Being visibly present changes things. This potentially provides for an exciting time ahead. Will this bring about economic growth, job prospects and greater use of the facilities provided by the university in the long term?

Being located in the city may enable easier access for those who rely on public transport to attend the university, if a transfer would currently be involved. Careful consideration will need to be given to traffic to ensure that free flowing movement is maintained and parking is effortless. My next question as I think about this is will a city based campus increase access by those who live in Launceston or the surrounding areas?

The harder aspect of planning for the change, is about changing attitudes and values. Which raises the question for me with regard to why do people respond with caution and have a tendency to be resistant to change? What do they fear they will lose or need to deal with? It is here that the work really needs to be undertaken. Firstly, there is acceptance and integration of the campus into city life, then there is valuing further education to reduce the often invisible barriers that hold people back from accessing.

Information sourced from http://www.ohio.edu/instres/factbook.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: