Space race makes University of the West of England’s campus fit to face the future

An estate master plan will help the institution equip students for the 21st century, v-c Steve West says

January 29, 2015

Source: University of the West of England

Sporting chances: the football stadium will act as a bridge between university and the community

Visit the University of the West of England’s Frenchay campus these days and you cannot get far without seeing diggers, lorries, temporary hoardings and legions of construction workers. All attest to the scope and ambition of the university’s redevelopment programme.

A “master plan” is set to transform the campus on the outskirts of Bristol. The project is proposed to include a 22,000-seat football stadium, to be built by Bristol Rovers Football Club; student accommodation including 2,000 bed spaces; a new £10 million students’ union building; and a £55 million building for the Faculty of Business and Law containing two law courts and office space for local businesses.

With the help of funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, the institution is also creating a university enterprise zone. This will contain incubator space for spin-off companies focusing on robotics, biosensors and biomedicine.

The overhaul is necessary, said UWE vice-chancellor Steve West, to ensure that the university’s academic offer and environment can accommodate the needs of students and staff, now and into the future.

Over the next 40 to 50 years, the job for life will have disappeared and graduates will likely work in a variety of roles across their careers, he explained. “We need to make sure that we are preparing them for that future,” he said.

Leasing about 3.2 ha of the site to Bristol Rovers to build a football stadium is one way that the university hopes to connect its students with the local community. Students will be alerted to part-time work available at the stadium and will be allowed to stage a number of sporting events there each year. The stadium will also house specialist facilities for the teaching of media, event management, and sports and sports science students.

In addition to holding naming rights to the stadium, the university will fund the development of, and eventually control, the car park to generate revenue.

To make its move, Bristol Rovers had worked out a deal to sell its existing Memorial Stadium, in the suburb of Horfield, to Sainsbury’s. But it recently emerged that the deal could be in danger. The football club confirmed on 20 January that it is taking Sainsbury’s to court to force through the sale after the supermarket giant threatened to pull out. Bristol Rovers needs to sell the site to progress with the UWE Stadium.

It would be disappointing if the deal falls through, Professor West acknowledged, but it would not affect the university as the land would be used for something else.

The master plan project is possible because UWE’s Frenchay campus neighbour, the US tech firm Hewlett-Packard, sold 70 acres of land to the institution in 2008, which roughly doubled the size of the campus.

Of course, redevelopment projects of this scale do not come cheap. The university is spending some £250 million over the next five years to do the work. About a third of that total is coming from institutional reserves, a third from borrowing and a third from grants and capital receipts. Land to the east of the campus that is owned by the Wallscourt Foundation, a charity that serves UWE, could also be sold for housing to generate revenue.

As part of the estate overhaul, UWE is consolidating activities that have been spread across six sites. It is in the process of selling its St Matthias campus in the Fishponds area of Bristol, which closed to students in July 2014. This will also generate funds for the revamp.

Two other campuses will get attention as part of the master plan. The university’s city centre Bower Ashton campus, which houses the Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education, is being treated to a “refresh”. New facilities for journalism and drama courses have already been completed, and the modernisation of existing arts and design studios is under way.

Professor West said that the Bower Ashton facilities will become more open, accessible and connected via the development of links and partnerships with other creative hubs in Bristol, including contemporary arts centres Spike Island and the Arnolfini, the Tobacco Factory theatre and the Paintworks creative quarter.

Meanwhile, investments at the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences on the Glenside campus, in Stapleton, three miles northeast of the city centre, will result in more accreditation of academic programmes with professional bodies.

UWE is determined to equip itself for the 21st century. On top of the changes already afoot, there is talk of a campus hotel linked to existing conference facilities and new facilities for science and engineering programmes. “We have got the ability to grow,” Professor West said.

In numbers

£250m – estimated total cost of Frenchay campus redevelopment

Campus news

Heriot-Watt University
Construction of a £20 million centre for earth and marine sciences at Heriot-Watt University has begun. The Lyell Centre will serve as the Scottish headquarters for the British Geological Survey, which will carry out joint research with Heriot-Watt academics into geological, petroleum and ocean sciences. Steve Chapman, Heriot-Watt’s principal, said the centre represented a “huge opportunity for earth and marine science in Scotland and globally”. It is scheduled for completion in early 2016.

Queen’s University Belfast
The Northern Ireland Executive is investing almost £7.5 million in the redevelopment of computer science teaching facilities at Queen’s University Belfast. This represents half the project’s approximately £15 million budget, with the university covering the rest. The facilities in the Bernard Crossland Building will serve the university’s growing student cohort in the subject, which has nearly doubled in two years to 1,350. Vice-chancellor Patrick Johnston said the scheme would help to make Northern Ireland a “world-class centre of ICT excellence”.

Harper Adams University
Greg Clark, the universities and science minister, has been going places – in a tractor. When visiting Harper Adams University for the signing of a £75 million growth deal for a local enterprise partnership in the region, Mr Clark took the chance to drive a tractor under expert guidance. “It is a source of great pride that this university, which has done such wonderful work over the years, is now increasingly recognised as one of the world’s leading research and teaching universities,” he said.

Southampton Solent University
A hydrofoil catamaran designed by an academic was on show when the Princess Royal attended the London International Boat Show this month. Princess Anne viewed a prototype of the Solent Whisper – designed by Ron Price, senior lecturer in naval architecture at Southampton Solent University – while at the event. The catamaran, which was built with access to design and engineering facilities at Solent’s Warsash Maritime Academy and city centre campus, uses a new hydrofoil system that the institution says could “offer America’s Cup-style sailing to the masses”.

University of Wolverhampton
An English university has opened a £300,000 teaching facility that will provide hands-on experience for pharmacy students. The Pharmacy Practice Suite at the University of Wolverhampton features eight clinical bays offering one-to-one interaction with simulated patients. Undergraduate students will have a chance to practise their problem-solving skills, rehearse phone consultations with doctors and perfect the counselling skills needed when providing information to patients.

Queen Mary University of London
A cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull has been acquired by a London university. The replica of a 1.5m-long skull on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC will be used by palaeontologists at Queen Mary University of London for undergraduate teaching and visits to nearby schools. The skull belongs to a dinosaur skeleton excavated in Montana in 1988. The animal, which lived about 66 million years ago, would have been more than 11m in length and weighed about six tonnes.

Nottingham Trent University
Architecture, art and design students from a UK university have won acclaim at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China. The Nottingham Trent University team captured the Creativity Award in the annual competition for their sculpture on the theme of global warming, featuring a human hand holding the globe surrounded by chimneys. The students received 3,000 yuan (£320) in prize money.

The hands-on “21st-century dad” is not a new phenomenon, research suggests. Historians Laura King of the University of Leeds and Julie-Marie Strange of the University of Manchester scrutinised multiple sources and found that, contrary to popular wisdom, the current generation of fathers’ close engagement with their children has precedents. Both Victorian and 20th-century fathers, although they were less prone to overt displays of affection, had deep bonds with their children, say the two scholars.

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