Bath gets nod for double vision

March 7, 2003

The University of Bath is set to double its size in the biggest shake-up since it received its royal charter in 1966.

Vice-chancellor Glynis Breakwell has received the go-ahead from higher education minister Margaret Hodge for plans for a £200 million campus in Swindon.

She said the campus would accommodate 8,000 full-time equivalent students - doubling the university's capacity - and would create 600 academic jobs over the period to 2010.

Professor Breakwell said: "We want to make sure that we are a university of the 21st century, not one based on the assumptions of the 19th century."

Bath traces its origins to the Bristol Trade School, which was established in 1856.

Bath signed a deal with Swindon Borough Council in 1999 to help bring higher education to the badly served county of Wiltshire in return for sites and buildings to accommodate Bath's expansion. The university opened a modest adult-learners site at Oakfield in central Swindon in 2000. It is now pushing ahead with plans to bring a fully fledged university campus to the town, which does not have a university within 30 miles.

Market research has predicted that there is sufficient demand for 8,000 students, with 2,400 undergraduates drawn from the local area.

Located next to the Queen Margaret hospital, the new campus is expected to branch into the healthcare field, as well as exploiting traditional strengths such as engineering, biotechnology and management.

The expansion plans mark a major departure for Bath, which for most of its 37 years as a university has focused on engineering and science on a single site in Claverton Down.

In the past, this modest approach has served it well. "We are one of the UK's best-kept secrets," said Professor Breakwell, who recited a list of accolades: top marks in each of its teaching assessments since 1998; surpassing benchmarks for widening participation; 72 per cent of staff working in research departments with the top assessment grades of 5 or 5*; fourth place behind Oxbridge and Imperial College London in The Times Good University Guide .

In recent years, Bath reputuation among students has grown substantially, with eight applications for each place. The number of applications has risen by 9.3 per cent on this time last year, up to 18,064.

Despite this increase, Bath will not cash in on its popularity by expanding numbers for the next academic year. Students are already up in arms over plans to cut lecture time by 20 per cent, after managers admitted that recent expansion had made it "increasingly difficult to timetable (teaching space) in an educationally or socially acceptable manner".

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