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Wolves, Albion, Villa - now Chinese investors target a little corner of Stafford

By Rob Golledge | Staffordshire | Education | Published:

It's the latest ripple in a wave of eastern investment and influence to sweep the West Midlands.

Wolves, Albion, Villa, and Blues have all been bought out by Chinese investors - and now it's the turn of a little corner of Stafford.

Last November, the New Beacon Group purchased Staffordshire University's recently vacated Beaconside campus.

And they have ambitious plans for the 46-acre site on the town's, rather fittingly, eastern fringe.

The sports facilities across Weston Road have just been refurbished and a £1 million revamp of the iconic Octagon building could soon start.

And in January the first students, initially a few hundred, are expected to arrive.

Eventually up to 3,000 students from China, the UK and across the world will be on the site.

University degree courses will be run at a higher education centre.

Courses in Mandarin and on how to do business in China will take place.

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Top businesses will run apprenticeship academies.

And there will be an international independent school - Beaconwood College - teaching international A-levels to mainly Chinese students from ages 11 to 19.

But why?

"The Chinese look upon the UK are a premiere of education and a place to study," said New Beacon Group deputy chief executive Professor Mark Mabey, a medical microbiologist from Stoke.

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"Chinese businesses are looking at markets where they can not only sell but develop their projects. And in Stafford again we have a lot of innovative companies.

"The investors bought it with the intention to build an educational hub in Stafford.

"They saw Stafford as a brilliant location. One because it was so central, and two because it is an amazing campus.

"For somewhere like Stafford with a lot of inward investment and companies relocating, to have a big Chinese consortium based here will be a catalyst."

He said there are 'three pillars' to the consortium's plans for the site.

"The first is around the development of higher education on the campus. We are working with the University of Wolverhampton and Staffordshire University to develop that.

"We start in January with an international postgraduate certificate in education where Chinese and UK students come across, particularly with an interest to teaching in international schools

"We will also offer an MSc in innovation and enterprise. It is about bringing Chinese and Stafford businesses together.

"It is a project where they exchange their ideas."

The second pillar is based on attracting major businesses to take up residence on the campus running apprenticeships.

"We will be renting out some of the buildings," said Professor Mabey.

"We have a very large FTSE 100 company that is going to set up an apprenticeship academy.

"It will be a massive company coming and setting up here. They see the advantage that they are coming to a brilliant location and link with the university, and move apprentices into higher apprenticeships.

"Ideally by September 2018 there will be two apprenticeship academies on the campus."

And the third and final piece of the jigsaw is Beaconwood College, the international school 'of the future'.

"This is something the investors are really committed to but it is a slow burn over the next five years.

"It will grow but they see it as a great way of getting Chinese students at a younger age to meet people with different views and different ideas."

Initially it could have around 20 students.

The New Beacon Group, which runs the Beijing Institute of Business and Technology in the Chinese capital, is also looking to build links with Stafford schools and businesses.

Next month 10 school pupils from the town will go on a 10-day trip to China after winning a competition.

They have been attending weekly introductory Mandarin classes put on by the group in preparation for the trip.

"It will be a wonderful opportunity for them," said Professor Mabey.

"And we hope it is the start of regular visits and link between the schools in Stafford and China."

Stafford Borough Council leader Patrick Farrington has been attending the Mandarin classes, albeit struggling to master the language.

He said: "There is a lot going on in Stafford but we are really excited about what is happening with this project at the university site.

"We are getting nearer to it becoming reality and I am running out of superlatives to describe it.

"The trip to China is a fantastic and I hope life-changing opportunity for these pupils.

"But we are so excited about how businesses and local schools will work with the college moving forward in developing highly skilled young people."

Rob Golledge

By Rob Golledge
@golledge_star

Part of the Express & Star special projects team responsible for investigations and major stories from politics to counter terrorism

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