Prosecco featured prominently in the aftermath of the university winning the Times Higher Education award for the Most Improved Student Experience in 2015. And the fizz continued to flow at a staff Christmas event, where the award enhanced the university’s anniversary celebrations.
The award was a consequence of commitment and a genuine team effort between colleagues and students – led by the students’ union – which was particularly successful last year in generating greater engagement and securing some of the institution’s highest-ever satisfaction ratings.
The enthusiasm generated by the award was fitting for a modern university that demonstrates creativity, flexibility, motivation and energy. With our 160-year history of delivering higher education, we provide a powerful combination of experience and contemporary approaches that make learning at Solent relevant, exciting and rewarding. Of course, those of us at Solent know this, but at times we need to let others know, and the award helps us to better profile what we do and reinforce the efficacy of the Solent approach.
At Solent we’re about delivering real-world learning, extending the learning experience beyond our campuses and interacting with other agencies, organisations and businesses. Supported by a recent reorganisation with a flatter structure, key influencers are now closer to the student experience and better able to enhance the real-world element. We recognise the importance of the programme group and course leaders and provide direct support to help them in their role. It was fitting that course leaders collected the award on the university’s behalf, but we celebrate everyone who leads or supports a course and we recognise their contribution routinely, not just when we win.
Our students are equally committed and passionate about Solent. One recent graduate explained that for her, the success of the university was about interactivity, the practical experience it provides and the feeling that we are all working together.
We are renowned for innovation; we are regularly in the top 20 universities for student business start-ups and in the top five for the provision of continuing professional development. Our retail outlet in a city shopping centre is one of many examples of our real-world approach and it recently won the National Enterprise Educator Award as an innovative model for teaching the business, creative and entrepreneurial techniques required for success in retail.
Our students benefit from being located in the centre of the UK’s International Maritime City, the cruise capital of Europe, with an international airport, a Premiership football club and home to the largest theatre, outside London, in the South East. We are about to open our new teaching building – the first part of a £100 million estates development programme, with a futuristic pod that looks directly on to one of the city’s many parks.
We have just appointed a professor of research-informed teaching; research and professional input constantly enrich the curriculum within our recently extended teaching year. A real-world curriculum that is innovative, practically grounded, informed by research and enhanced by business is our offer to students.
In addition, new structures, enhanced processes, delivery in iconic real estate in the heart of a lively city, plus a genuine partnership with our students, will be the template to further enhance the student experience. I raise a glass of Prosecco to that.
Graham Baldwin is the vice-chancellor of Southampton Solent University.