Campus close-up: University of Warwick

As the Coventry campus with global reach turns 50, it looks to alliances without forgetting its roots

August 28, 2014

Source: Alamy

Towering ambition: Warwick Business School is to open a branch at the Shard

As the University of Warwick prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of its first undergraduate admissions next year, the spread of its brand is clear. There is the recently announced news that Warwick Business School will open a site at the Shard in central London; Warwick’s involvement in the Center for Urban Science and Progress in New York; and its “alliance” with Australia’s Monash University.

“Going into the 50th just creates a moment of reflection to say, ‘how have we got here and how do we use what we’ve got to take that forward?’ ” said Ken Sloan, Warwick’s registrar and chief operating officer.

Warwick can be found all over the world, but not in Warwick itself, of course. The Coventry-based university’s establishment was partly funded by the councils of both Coventry and Warwickshire. Its name was an attempt to offer something to the county, given that the city was expected to reap most of the economic benefits from the university.

Is there a tension between the high-performing research university with global reach and an elite student intake, and the local role with which Warwick set out in the 1960s?

“It only becomes a tension if you make it a tension,” said Mr Sloan, highlighting the university’s regional role. He described Warwick as “the first Russell Group university to introduce a 2+2 programme with the local further education colleges where you can study for two years there and then come here”.

Christina Hughes, pro vice-chancellor (teaching and learning), pointed to other widening participation projects. These include a scheme led by the university’s innovation centre WMG and department of computer science that works with disabled students at a Coventry further education college.

The students at Hereward College design and produce objects (using 3D printers) that will help them in their day-to-day lives – such as the student unable to tap out text messages on a mobile phone with their fingers who created a mouthguard to hold a stylus. The scheme has the benefit of “raising participation in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects”, added Professor Hughes.

The university bills the forthcoming National Automotive Innovation Centre – scheduled for completion in 2016 – as a development that will bring new car industry jobs to Coventry, once the UK’s motor city.

Throughout its history, Warwick’s entrepreneurial approach has provoked admiration but also criticism. This year saw the reissue of Warwick University Ltd, originally published in 1970 and edited by historian E. P. Thompson, then at Warwick. The book says that local industry exerted a powerful influence over the university in its early years, and claims that left-wing students were blacklisted. Its re-publication has coincided with another controversy that has brought Warwick fresh criticism: the suspension of Thomas Docherty, a professor of English and comparative literature charged with undermining his head of department.

On entrepreneurialism, Mr Sloan paraphrases the view expressed by the university’s chancellor, Sir Richard Lambert, former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, at a recent event: “At an early stage of this institution, it was things like having a business school, things like having Warwick Manufacturing Group which have enabled the university not only to be confident overall, but which have created the environment in which other disciplines have been able to thrive.”

An integral feature in the university’s future will be the “strategic partnership” it has with Monash. Andrew Coats, academic vice-president for the Monash Warwick Alliance, said the project offers “a way of internationalisation that is quite different”.

It has led to joint appointments like Sebastien Perrier, professor of chemistry, who says his research in applying nanotechnology to biomedical science has already benefited from greater access to grants and links with industry.

Trevor McCrisken, associate professor in US politics and international studies at Warwick, highlights the pilot double MA in journalism, politics and international studies that has been developed between the two universities, allowing students to study in the UK and Australia.

And Hannah Sugrue, a final-year engineering undergraduate, was part of the first student project to benefit from the alliance in her role as a member of Warwick’s Formula Student racing team. The Warwick students won funding for an exchange programme – a visit to Melbourne allowing them to understand their car’s aerodynamics better thanks to use of Monash’s full-scale wind tunnel.

Warwick is clearly gearing up for a global race in its next 50 years, after rapid acceleration in its first 50. The rest of the higher education sector will be watching its performance with keen interest.

In numbers

2016 - the year that the National Automotive Innovation Centre is scheduled for completion

Campus news

University of Nottingham
A vice-chancellor has set off on a fourth annual charity cycle ride. David Greenaway, the head of the University of Nottingham, has joined a team of 16 volunteers undertaking a 1,400-mile ride around the UK. They hope to raise £750,000 for the university’s Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre: a target equivalent to the combined total raised by the first three “Life Cycles”. The cyclists, who set off from Land’s End on 14 August, are due to reach John O’Groats on 30 August.

University of Buckingham
A university is launching an annual scholarship for budding business tycoons. The University of Buckingham’s £25,000 Kingham Scholarship for Entrepreneurs will fund one student a year to study for a bachelor’s degree in business enterprise, in which students start and run their own business. It will be awarded to those deemed to have the best business plan and “pitch”, as judged by a panel of business people and business specialists.

Bangor University
A dog called Barney has found a floating device released into the sea more than half a century ago by scientists from a Welsh university. The drifter, discovered by a retired salesman walking his dog on Silecroft beach on the west Cumbrian coast, promises a five shilling reward for anyone returning it to oceanographers at Bangor University. It was released in 1968 by researchers at Bangor who wanted to better understand currents in the Irish Sea.

University for the Creative Arts
Social media fans may be pleased to hear about a new device that can take photos and upload them to Facebook or Twitter using just the mind. A graduate of the University for the Creative Arts has created a prototype that blends Google Glass with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, sensor that detects the brain’s impulses. The MindRDR device is able to take pictures when the user relaxes or concentrates and then to share them on social media sites.

University of Dundee
A Scottish university is leading a major new project to look at the quality of housing design in the country, ahead of a large expansion in homes in areas such as Edinburgh and Aberdeenshire. The University of Dundee project will look to prioritise the role of architectural design in improving the built environment. Graeme Hutton, head of architecture and planning, said that the development of Scotland’s suburbs had “largely escaped scrutiny”.

De Montfort University
A PhD student has co-authored a second book about Victorian stereoscopic pictures with Queen guitarist Brian May. Denis Pellerin, who is currently studying for a doctorate at De Montfort University’s Photographic History Research Centre, is curator of Dr May’s collection of the three-dimensional images, which were a Victorian craze. Their second book, The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery, will be accompanied by an exhibition at London’s Tate Britain gallery beginning in October.

Queen Mary University of London
Mobile phones could one day be recharged using noise from traffic, voices or music. Working with telecoms giant Nokia, material scientists at Queen Mary University of London created a prototype generator that could harvest enough power from the vibrations of background noise to power a standard mobile phone. “Tapping into the stray energy that is all around us is an exciting concept,” said researcher Joe Briscoe, a postdoctoral research assistant at QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science.

University of Sussex
This football season supporters of five teams will be able to get a better phone signal in stadiums during games using new smartphone technology. An app created by a team at the University of Sussex and trialled at Brighton and Hove Albion allows phones to share bandwidth by creating a network. Fans can also communicate with each other, receive live updates on other games and travel information, and rate the referee. Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Middlesbrough, Queens Park Rangers and Watford are now using the technology.

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