The University of Brighton has revealed this morning (Wednesday, October 27) it plans to pull out of Eastbourne.
The university, which operates out of three sites in Eastbourne – Hillbrow, which includes the sports centre, Darley Road and Leaf Hospital – aims to have left the town entirely by the start of the 2024/2025 academic year.
Eastbourne Borough Council leader David Tutt said the news was ‘a shock’ – especially considering the ‘cooperation and understanding’ between the university and the town over the years.
Currently about 1,500 students are at the Eastbourne sites and contribute a significant amount to the town’s economy.
The university has been in Eastbourne since 1979 when Brighton Polytechnic merged with the East Sussex College of Higher Education, incorporating the Chelsea College of Physical Education in Eastbourne which had moved to town from London in 1949.
Students study at the School of Sport and Service Management and the School of Health Sciences in Eastbourne, with facilities including laboratories, culinary arts studio, podiatry and physiotherapy clinic, a library, restaurants and the pool, sports hall, and outdoor pitches at the Hillbrow sports centre – which is also used by members of the public.
It now aims to consolidate these facilities at a new School of Sport and Health Sciences at its Falmer campus.
Vice-chancellor Professor Debra Humphris said, “Our Eastbourne campus has been an important part of the University’s history and heritage, but it has become increasingly clear that to successfully deliver our academic vision for sport and health sciences and meet our commitments on accessibility and sustainability, our University’s future is in Brighton.
“The opportunity presented by the reacquisition of the Virgin Active site at the heart of our Falmer campus means we can invest in creating an outstanding home for our School of Sport and Health Sciences alongside Brighton and Sussex Medical School and our School of Education.
“In a post-pandemic world, the opportunities for collaboration and partnership in these areas has never been more important.”
Council leader David Tutt said, “The news of this consultation comes as quite a shock, especially considering the many commitments made by Brighton University to Eastbourne and their continued long term presence in the town.
“Brighton University and before that Chelsea College has been part of the fabric of Eastbourne for many years. Students and many staff have always benefited from studying and living in Eastbourne, and many local businesses and groups have benefited too.
“A spirit of cooperation and understanding has always existed between Eastbourne Borough Council and Brighton University, something that I know successive Vice-Chancellors have valued.
“The town has been a loyal friend and support to the university and as a council we will be making the strongest possible representations that this association should be maintained.
“Our friends at the university know very well how their campus in Eastbourne harmoniously coexists with their campus in Brighton, and I hope that view will prevail.”
Christina Ewbank, chief executive of Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce, said, “It was very disappointing to hear about the University’s plans on Wednesday, which came without any warning.
“We have a long history of welcoming students to the town and they will be sadly missed if this goes ahead.
“If it does it will leave a university level skills gap between Brighton and Ashford leaving Eastbourne and Hastings residents and businesses badly served.”
Dennis Scard, chair of the Meads Community Association, said he is ‘very concerned’ about the university moving from the area.
“We will need to work very closely with EBC to ensure that these important sites are used or re-developed to enhance and protect this unique part of Eastbourne,” he said.
Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell added, “This is very disappointing news after such a successful long-term partnership with the town.
“I have spoken with the university’s vice-chancellor this morning who answered many of my questions but I will have others in the weeks to come.
“The university is a valued partner in Eastbourne and an important part of the economy, and there will be some concern locally, especially around jobs.
“There is a consultation and everyone can give their views. I will be doing that too.”
The university is holding a six-week consultation on the plans, closing on December 10.
Find out more and have your say at brighton.ac.uk/brighton2025.