‘A quiet revolution’ - a look at a busy five years for Norwich University of the Arts after new award win

Professor John Last, vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts.
Photo: Owen Richards

Professor John Last, vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts. Photo: Owen Richards - Credit: Owen Richards

It's an institution which contributes millions to Norwich's economy and creates the next generation of artists and designers. As it nears five years as a university, and with a new gold award under its belt, Lauren Cope visits Norwich University of the Arts (NUA).

Tucked away in various corners of Norwich city centre, it's easy to wander past the buildings, and students, of NUA.

It's been embedded in the community for decades, but, for many, remains something of a mystery.

But the university is rapidly building on a sturdy reputation in its field, and fast making itself a name in further-flung corners of the country.

Since it was given the official university tick in 2012, its student numbers have jumped by almost 30pc - up from 1,701 to 2,189 - and its financial contribution to the city has grown to £16.7m.

Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards

Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards - Credit: Archant


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Buildings have been built, awards won and courses added - with one in visual effects and three new bachelor of science degrees a reflection of the changing creative industries.

Its vice-chancellor, professor John Last, describes it as a 'quiet revolution in the city'.

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He said: 'We're lucky the community likes having a creative university in its midst, but there's always a lag between what institutions do and what people think they do.

'More and more people are recognising that we are on the national scene and very respected for what we do.

Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards

Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards - Credit: Archant

'Everything has been changed by technology, and we're offering courses that wouldn't have existed years ago. It's shaped by employers - we're creating courses for emerging jobs and making sure they fit onto a career path.'

Earlier this month, NUA was given gold in the government's new teaching excellence framework (TEF), a measure of teaching designed to help young people decide where, and what, to study.

MORE: Work from students at Norwich University of the Arts goes on displayGold is an honour bestowed on just 26pc of UK universities, and one Prof Last said was 'hugely encouraging'.

Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards

Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Owen Richards - Credit: Archant

'No league table can tell you what you need to know about a university - it's always best to visit and see what they're doing and offering,' he said, 'but of course it is very pleasing, and a reflection of the hard work by our incredible staff.'

Applications from elsewhere around the country are on the rise, and almost half of undergraduates remain in Norfolk to work.

'Norwich is becoming a city that young people want to live and work in,' he said. 'We are fighting against cities including Manchester, London and Liverpool, which are well-established in what they do, but students are coming to us and choosing to stay here.'

But growth plans are on the back-burner for now - having opened its Ideas Factory and new accommodation block in the last few years, it's time to let recent changes bed in.

'We wouldn't want to grow too big - it's a creative community and I often ask myself how big that can become,' prof Last said. 'We'll probably aim for 2,500 students, but we'll let that growth happen naturally.'

NUA: A history

In 1845, the Norwich School of Design was founded by artists and followers of the Norwich School of Painters.

It continued until 1965, when it was approved to offer degree-level provision through a diploma in art and design.

In 1975, the first BA Honours degree course was validated by the Council for National Academic Awards.

The Great Yarmouth College of Art was incorporated into the school in 1989, and the first MA courses were introduced in 1993 through an agreement with Anglia Polytechnic, now Anglia Ruskin University.

It was renamed as the Norwich School of Art and Design in 1994 and Norwich University College of the Arts in 2008.

In 2012, it officially became a university, was renamed Norwich University of the Arts and appointed its first chancellor - actor Sir John Hurt.

Last year, NUA launched its £3m Ideas Factory, which harnesses students' talents and serves as a commercial outlet for ideas. It aims to create 195 high-value jobs by 2020, and is a model which has been replicated elsewhere.

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