“It’s Official – We’re a University City!” announced the Chichester Observer’s front page headline on July 7, 2005.
The exciting news had broken that the Queen’s Privy Council had agreed to award university status to University College Chichester (formerly the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education).
It would be another nine years before university status was consolidated with Research Awarding Powers, awarded in 2014.
This had been a long journey to become a university that started with a merger in 1977 between Bishop Otter and Bognor Regis Teacher Training colleges.
Professor Clive Behagg joined the newly-formed West Sussex Institute in 1976 as a lecturer in history. Tomorrow, he retires, having been vice-chancellor and chief executive for the last seven years.
“It has been my privilege to play a role in all stages of the remarkable journey of this very special institution.
“Chichester stands out in today’s highly-competitive higher education sector because of the student experience that it offers.
“We are a small modern university of 5,500 students offering a wide range of subjects, which will include engineering and digital technology from 2018.
“From 2010 onwards, the government has progressively introduced a new funding regime based on student loans with the intention that universities should compete like businesses and students should act as consumers, resulting in a competitive free marketplace in which universities would live or die on the basis of the quality of their ‘product’.
“Many argued in 2010 that this new approach would spell the end of small universities since they would lack the critical mass to withstand the free market competition of the big players.
“At the time Chichester was the smallest university in the country, so we took this personally! Things have not worked out as the experts predicted, mainly because they forgot the agency of the students themselves and what they would look for in selecting their own education.
“In fact, far from disappearing, Chichester has increased its full time undergraduate numbers by 25 per cent since 2010 – amongst the largest percentage growth of any university in the UK.
“The key to our success that we are small but we punch above our weight.
“The university itself is now a major business, with economic impact studies calculating that it brings £124 million into the area each year. This will rise to £168m by 2022 when our new Technology Park is up and running – the building opens for students in September 2018.
“As I leave, I would like to thank the people of Chichester and Bognor Regis for all the support they have given to their university. I hope that you will continue to cherish the University of Chichester as a very special university that serves a very special community.”
Based on two beautiful campuses in Chichester and Bognor Regis, the University of Chichester provides degrees at undergraduate, masters and PhD level in a supportive community of learning.
Professor Clive Behagg said: “The quality of teaching has always been important to us. Two years ago, the Sunday Times/Times Good University Guide ranked us 12th in the country for ‘teaching excellence’, with Cambridge ranked 13th. The same guide this year awarded us University of the Year for Student Retention, an award we also won in 2014). Our success is based on close and productive relationships between staff and students. Asked to identify the best thing about the University of Chichester and the worst thing, by the Sunday Times two years ago, the president of our Students’ Union said best was ‘ you can’t walk across the campus without meeting someone you know’ and worst, ‘you can’t cut classes because the tutors know your name’.
“I like to think that the university has the same community feel as our host towns – warm, friendly places where people know and support each other.
“It was my privilege to be a child of the generation that came back from the war determined that the world they would build would be better than the one they had to march out to defend. That generation measured their success by the educational opportunities they created for their children and which they themselves never had. I know that I am the beneficiary of that inspired post-war vision. Growing up on a council estate in Essex in the 1950s and 1960s, the world was opened up to me by my parents’ commitment to my education. We have lost that impetus to some extent and we now need to inspire our young people with the possibilities the world holds for those with the right skills and abilities. So, I am proud that 53 per cent of our students at the university are from the first generation of their families to go to university and 36 per cent come from low income groups – just as I did.
“We must continue to raise the aspirations of our young people if our economy is to thrive. That’s why the government has made universities a key player in the bid to grow the economy and develop the skills to increase productivity we need to compete globally.”