Glasgow & West Scotland

Glasgow Caledonian University New York campus has no degree students

Media captionThe New York campus opened in September 2013

A Scottish university that became the first in the UK to open a campus in New York still has no degree students, two years after it launched.

The BBC has learned that Glasgow Caledonian University has spent £5.6m developing an offshoot in Manhattan.

But its application to the New York authorities for a licence to teach and award degrees has yet to be approved.

Labour said the campus was "a very expensive white elephant".

University bosses insisted it would eventually repay the investment.

University chancellor Prof Muhammad Yunus launched GCU NY in September 2013 when a 15-year lease on premises was agreed.

Image copyright Thomas Nugent
Image caption The university has sought to expand beyond its Glasgow base

In April that year, the university announced that it had applied to the New York State education department for a licence.

At that time, it said the application was "progressing well" and anticipated the whole process would take "around 18 months to complete".

That might have made it possible for teaching to start in autumn 2014.

The university's website certainly promises to "offer a range of postgraduate programs" from autumn 2015.

These courses have not gone ahead because the university is still waiting for a licence.

The university's deputy vice-chancellor, Professor James Miller, said he was "confident" degree-awarding status would be granted by New York State.

"We've been told that as far as they're concerned there are no particular issues with our application," he said.

In a statement, the New York state education department said it had several pending requests and "there is no established timeline for the completion of the review and consideration of those applications".

The department said its "first priority" was to register courses run by existing New York colleges and universities.

Labour's public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "What we have here is a university's ambition going far ahead of what they can deliver in reality.

"And what we're left with is a very expensive white elephant."

Prof Miller said Labour's criticism was "grossly unfair".

"It's a good investment as far as we're concerned. The business case was robust. We assessed the risks at the time and decided that it was a risk that was worth taking.

"We will generate that money back. I've got no doubt about that," he said.

GCU NY has started earning some income by offering short, non-degree courses to business and by securing its first research grant.

These revenues are understood to be relatively small compared to the £5.6m that has been spent so far setting up and running the campus.

The university insists the project is entirely funded from its own resources and not from public money.

The union convener at GCU, Dr Nick McKerrell, said: "It's worrying in an age of wage restraint and austerity that money's being used in quite a speculative project which the unions have always thought was too high-risk to get involved with."

Image copyright GCU
Image caption Alex Salmond formally opened GCU NY in April 2014

The campus was formally opened in April 2014 by the then first minister, Alex Salmond, and has attracted a number of high profile speakers and seminars.

When first minister Nicola Sturgeon visited in June 2015, she described the campus as an "absolutely fantastic development" and praised the "foresight" of university leaders.

In a recent staff address, GCU's principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Pamela Gillies, said: "New York is firmly established and beginning to thrive."

The university believes internationalisation is key to its future success.

Image caption Nicola Sturgeon described the campus as an "absolutely fantastic development" in June

It already runs a college of engineering in Oman and a college of nursing in Bangladesh in partnership with others.

It has a new campus in London as well as New York and has been invited to teach degree courses in Mauritius.

The principal and her deputy are due to attend a graduation ceremony in South Africa where GCU runs a railway degree programme.

If an education licence is granted in New York, the university hopes to offer specialist courses in fashion and risk management.

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