CAMPUS SPOTLIGHT: Coventry’s rise to the top

The Coventry University we know today is a far cry from the Lanchester Polytechnic which preceded it

Having morphed in 1970 from a college of art into the polytechnic bearing the name of the celebrated British engineer, in 2015 – 23 years after the institution gained full degree-awarding status – it is only the University’s striking, turreted library and art gallery which still carry the Lanchester moniker.

Those buildings are now surrounded by a buzzing, burgeoning campus which is home to over 26,000 students from all over the world – an instant, physical testament to the progress the University has made since the days of the ‘Lanch’.

Impressive recent developments such as the RIBA award-winning Hub – which is a focal point of student activity on the 33-acre city centre site – and the feature-packed Engineering and Computing Building have already become iconic structures on the Coventry landscape. They will be joined in 2017 by an equally eye-catching £60m science and health facility to house the University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. 

But the progress is not just superficial. Coventry University’s rise up the rankings has been one of the higher education success stories of this decade. In 2010 the University was placed 75th in that year’s Guardian University Guide. What followed over the next five years – owing to the hard work of staff and an ambitious vision by the institution’s leaders to transform its reputation – was a year-on-year leap up every major league table, driven largely by strong student satisfaction and teaching excellence ratings.

This upward trend has seen Coventry awarded The Times and Sunday Times University Guide’s ‘Modern University of the Year’ accolade for two years running in 2014 and 2015, during which time it has also become the highest ranked modern university in the history of both the Guardian and Times and Sunday Times league tables (27th and 42nd respectively).

Underpinning much of the success is a strong focus on teaching and learning which permeates through everything – even the design and layout of the buildings. Lecture rooms in the newest facilities, for example, can transform into 360 degree amphitheatres to bring a more intimate, immersive element to the discussion, and learning spaces are open and adaptable to encourage sharing of ideas and disrupt the traditional one-way flow of information from lecturer to student.

Students have shown their appreciation for this approach in the latest National Student Survey, voting Coventry to joint top-spot in the UK for teaching – alongside Oxford and Cambridge – and into first place overall for academic support. 

As well as success in the standings, the last year has seen one of the most noteworthy additions to Coventry University’s wide-ranging and innovative portfolio. Having successfully launched its London campus in 2010 – which is now thriving with around 1,000 students – and Coventry University College in 2011, the University once again piqued the interest of the sector in 2014 by opening the doors of its Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering in the city. 

The institute, true to Coventry University’s longstanding reputation for having strong links with industry, is a collaboration with the Unipart Manufacturing Group – a ‘faculty on the factory floor’ which was created in response to increasing demand from students to have industry experience and employability embedded in their course. Students study and work alongside industry professionals in a real manufacturing environment, with a unique opportunity to engage with genuine industry projects. When students graduate, they already have the front-line experience that they know is sought after by employers.

The institute is also carrying out leading-edge research, and is one of the many areas of the University that is set to benefit from a significant new drive intended to boost Coventry’s research performance and bring it up amongst the traditional heavyweight research institutions.

A £100m investment into research is underway to make this happen, and it has already seen the launch of several new centres specialising in areas around which Coventry has historically had considerable expertise. 

The Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, for example, has been established to build on and advance the University’s world-leading research around trust as a key component of peace building, reconciliation and community cohesion – echoing the very themes for which Coventry as a city is internationally famous.

In a recent House of Lords debate, the Archbishop of Canterbury drew attention to the positive impact of the centre’s work. Researchers in the new Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences, too, have attracted global interest and media attention. A team of its scientists have developed a pioneering new way – using real human heart tissue – to test the effect of drugs on the heart without using human or animal trials. 

Other notable projects which demonstrate the breadth of research underway at Coventry include initiatives to tackle female genital mutilation, collaborations with industry to combat automotive cyber security threats, and long-term studies into children’s literacy.

December’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) results portend well for the ambitions that Coventry University has going forward – the university was ranked joint fifth in the UK for the quality of its research in the allied health professions category receiving the top ratings of four or three stars, with many other areas also being rated as ‘world leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’.

Such successes are only bolstering Coventry’s international reputation. Already boasting one of the most culturally diverse campuses in the UK thanks to its 5,000-strong international student population – drawn from over 150 countries – the University is continuing to grow its overseas presence, including through recent collaborations with Kadir Has University in Istanbul and the South West University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing.

Closer to home, the University – and the city of Coventry itself – has a lot to look forward to over the next decade. As far as ‘town and gown’ relationships go, the University and the city council enjoy a hugely positive rapport which has paved the way for the University to transform the city’s skyline and make an enormous contribution to its economy over the years.

And in a recently announced deal with the council, Coventry University will be investing a further £125m into new buildings in what will be the largest and most significant development in its history. A new headquarters, new international student centre and new business incubation unit are all part of the plan, and will all have a role to play in the University’s ambition to be truly world-class in everything that it does.

 

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