What is the purpose of the University of Brighton? And why does it matter? Those were questions that the debate was hoping to address.
The distinguished panel tackling these questions was made up of Brighton and Sussex alumni, musician Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), Alison Lapper MBE (artist and author), Professor Julian M Crampton CBE DL (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton) and current Brighton student Candice Armah (Chair of Union Council for Brighton Students’ Union). The debate was chaired by the legendary television presenter David Dimbleby who is an Honorary Graduate of the University of Brighton.
The debate was conducted in a very similar way as an episode of Question Time where the panel responded to questions posed by the audience, which was made up of various members of the local community.
The debate kicked off with a question about what the connection there is between the University of Brighton and businesses in Brighton. Professor Julian M Crampton CBE DL answered that he wants the University of Brighton to be at the heart of business in Brighton and wants there to be “more placements in the city” offered to students at Brighton University. The Vice-Chancellor and Norman Cook were in agreement that it is both good for students and the community to have more students working in the city because it creates (in the words of Norman Cook) a “virtuous circle” between the community and the university where more students working provides more money for the local economy, and more money in the local economy allows the university to accommodate more students.
The discussion then moved on to the links between the university and the arts community of Brighton. Alison Lapper MBE stated that it is important for the university of Brighton to take part in the art world because people need to realise that you don’t have to be based in London to make it in that field. Then Norman Cook suggested that there was a much closer relationship between the arts and the university when he was a student at Brighton in the early ’80s than there is today. He said that there were countless gigs put on by the Students Union held in various university buildings and told us that New Order actually played one of their very first gigs underneath the theatre we were in, in an event hosted by the SU. He said it was this relationship that allowed him to develop his DJ skills and that the culture of student hosted gigs no longer exists at the uni and it’s a shame. Candice Armah responded that the current Students’ Union do want to host gigs in various uni buildings but the university is too resistant to it and do not make such events feasible, she said “to hire out the Sallis Benney theatre it is £60 per hour and that is just not affordable for a Students’ Union” and agreed with Mr. Cook that the uni needs to do more to engage with the art community. The Vice-Chancellor disagreed that the university doesn’t do enough when it comes to the arts. He said it hosts lots of different art exhibitions throughout the year and that the reason it doesn’t do many music gigs is because the buildings are occupied throughout the day and at night there is too “much competition from the other great music venues in Brighton to make such events viable.”
The main talking point of the night though was the issue of student housing and how well students mix with other members of the community. An audience member who was a current sixth-form student in Brighton told the panel that he lives next to a student house and that they are not the best neighbours to have as they are very loud and disruptive and asked whether it would be better if there were more housing areas specially for students rather than have them scattered out amongst the community. Norman Cook disagreed with this assertion and said that a community that has a wide mixture of people will normally lead to a better community so it is a good thing if students live alongside non-students. Then an audience member announced that she is a private landlord (cue pantomime boos and hisses) and she said students that she has dealt/deals with have been terrible tenants and none of them have any common sense, to which David Dimbleby quickly fired back with “then why do you take them on?” She didn’t respond.
All in all the debate was interesting and engaging and did highlight the importance of having a university in a city.
By Luca Van Dresh