Campus close-up: University of Southampton

Engineering and maritime technology campus being redeveloped at Boldrewood in collaboration with industry partner

April 3, 2014

The University of Southampton is creating an “engineers’ playpen” as part of a £140 million redevelopment of its Boldrewood campus that vice-chancellor Don Nutbeam believes will create university-business links on an “unprecedented scale”.

The site, which sits to the west of the university’s main Highfield campus, is being developed jointly with engineering and services company Lloyd’s Register, which has a long history of collaborating with the institution.

“It is a really exciting co-location,” Professor Nutbeam said. “It was a very significant strategic decision for Lloyd’s Register [because] they were being aggressively courted by other countries to move their global technology division overseas.”

The university will move a “significant part” of its engineering and technology facilities on to the campus and will also develop new facilities that have a direct application to the work of Lloyd’s Register, historically a major player in the maritime industry. New facilities include an anechoic wind chamber and a 186m towing tank that will facilitate detailed research on new maritime technologies.

The facilities and co-location with Lloyd’s will create a “seamless opportunity for our students and academic community to engage with a vibrant technology-based industry”, Professor Nutbeam said.

Previously the campus hosted the university’s Schools of Biological Sciences and Medicine and the office of the now defunct Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences. The campus buildings were in a poor state of repair and refurbishment was deemed to be uneconomical.

In September 2007, the local council granted planning permission for the university to redevelop the campus as a Maritime Centre of Excellence. Enabling works began that year and subsequently the university relocated staff from the site to the new Life Sciences Building on the main campus, Southampton General Hospital and the University of Southampton Science Park.

The new campus is due to open later this year and will house the Lloyd’s Register Technology Centre, the university’s Engineering Centre of Excellence and the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute, the initial stage of a Maritime Centre of Excellence.

Southampton has been working with Lloyd’s Register on research projects for more than 40 years. “They saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Professor Nutbeam said. “We want to create this magnet for other businesses that have a stake in advanced technology in the marine and maritime sector.”

The university is now in discussion with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership to see if it can channel resources into the project “to build upon the market advantage we have as a sector in the Solent region”, he explained.

Other developments planned at the university include the creation of a business school. It is scheduled to be launched in the next academic year and will focus on science and engineering.

Southampton will spend a further £20 million to establish a cancer immunology centre that will be aligned with the Francis Crick Institute in London, which is due to open in 2015. A £10 million gift from an anonymous private donor has provided half the funding and the university has committed to raising the rest.

Meanwhile, on the teaching front, undergraduates who started this academic year have the option for the first time to choose a minor subject alongside their main degree.

Offering minor options in subjects that are currently suffering from weak student demand, such as philosophy, could preserve teaching and the research base in these areas, Professor Nutbeam said. Southampton’s undergraduate intake of UK students dropped by 700 in 2012-13, the first year of £9,000 fees. However, recruitment bounced back substantially this year and, according to Ucas figures, is up 23 per cent year-on-year.

“What we are trying to do is anticipate the interest of students in more flexible approaches to their learning,” Professor Nutbeam said of the major and minor subject options.

He added that students frequently have a “broad idea” of what they want to study before coming to university but then find themselves “somewhat locked into a programme…that offers relatively little flexibility”.

To help boost flexibility, the university went through an “incredibly painful process” of standardising its modules and timetabling to allow students to take modules outside their chosen programme.

The institution has also set its sights on creating Moocs and other free-standing programmes within the curriculum.

Professor Nutbeam said the “greater flexibility” resulting from such initiatives would give students the option to bolster their existing studies – perhaps over the summer vacation for example – or change from full- to part-time study.

In numbers

£140m redevelopment for University of Southampton’s Boldrewood campus

holly.else@tsleducation.com

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