It was hard not to like Harlow. Full disclosure: that lovely church spire is not on our actual Memorial land but is in plain site of our residences and office. But that was a postcard op waiting to be snapped, as English as a hedgerow.
Believe it or not, but after three decades of working at Memorial this was my first visit there, just a few days ago. Well, as you can see from the blue sky and budding trees on our small UK campus it would have been hard not to feel lighter of the heart in general. But genial weather aside, I feel as if I not only discovered the place but can now go forward with some planning for Harlow with a measure of confidence and a lot more knowledge. You have to see the wiring before you know what sort of upgrades you can handle.
Hundreds if not thousands of our students have been transformed after spending time on our vital little plot of land just north of London. I get it. One of our buildings dates from 1650, or so I was told. And we thought St. John’s was old. The campus—such as it is–is actually situated in what is formally known as Old Harlow, which is exactly where our students would want to be, surrounded by history, greenery, and a tranquil, meditative spot of loveliness. Did I mention that local pubs are as close as a whistle? That you can sit in the shade of a thriving willow while sipping your brew on a spring afternoon?
To date, we have been encouraging our students to participate in some study time at Harlow through various specially crafted programs. Biology, and several Arts departments have come and gone over the years, as has the Faculty of Business Administration. Annually, a modest figure of about 80 people have visited the campus, taken a course, done field trips in the English countryside, visited landscapes and historic sites, attended plays in the London theatre district, and so on. For the most part, and as we hear over and over, the experiences have been enriching for everyone. In Essex County, Stansted Airport is about 10 minutes away and it’s an easy hop to the continent and the temptations of Paris, to take an obvious weekend practice. Sure puts a weekend drive to Gander in perspective.
This year a new incentive program has attracted double the number of registrants and so over the next few months about 160 of our students will be listening to music, studying foodways, and enjoying all of the above activities. Interest in new programing is growing, a sign of what I believe to be the enormous potential of Harlow for Memorial.
Such valuable real estate also gives us unprecedented access to the world. Offering Harlow as a base for our own existing online graduate programs, by way of possibility, would extend our reach far beyond the eastern shores of Canada. We are starting to explore the markets for our programs and gauging potential interest. We are also living at a time when universities all over the world see value in partnerships and collaborations, and to that end we have been talking to a number of interested UK-based post-secondary institutions about how best to further our respective interests.
Harlow used to be so far away, a remote speck of an idea on the Memorial map. In the worst-case thinking, Harlow was an economic drain, an annoyance on a budget line. But the campus, a small but vital footprint, is now as close as a text message—or a short hop across the pond. How many North American universities would give away their parking privileges just to own a bit of land in England? Well, we own it, and have the papers and signage to prove it. Now we need to take Harlow to its 2.0 potential. To that end, a team of people will be working with a view to enhancing its offerings and our own Canadian base.
I know I am sounding optimistic, and that faculty members who have come and gone will remind me of international hassles and logistical challenges. I know I know, but I also know this is the time to go back (to the old country) to (inform) the future. Let’s get on it.