Swansea University’s spectacular new £450m science and innovation Bay Campus has formally opened, welcoming new first year and returning students for the 2015-2016 academic year. As we arrive at the campus, just off the motorway but right next to the beach, this is a big occasion for the university and South Wales itself.
Developed by St. Modwen, this transformational major project for the University has been more than 10 years in the planning; has taken just over two years to build; and will be home to almost 5,000 students and 1,000 staff.
The Bay Campus is the new location for the University’s College of Engineering and School of Management, offering students, staff and business world-class learning, teaching, and research facilities. At the campus’ centre is the Great Hall, the legacy building of BP incorporating teaching spaces and an auditorium which will be open for public performances.
The 24-hour Bay Library next door offers impressive views over the beach and is a light, open space for up to 650 students to work . The library will also be open to the public to enjoy.
The Campus’ buildings, which are complemented by careful and sustainable landscaping to provide a positive and lasting attribute to the community and the locality, are enhanced by squares, open spaces and landscaped courts, utilising as many local and a variety of species of trees, plants, and shrubs as possible. The architecture has a north American look and feel, complete with brownstone halls of residence and impressive clock tower.
We caught up with Alison Parker, Business Marketing Manager, about the reasons for building a brand-new campus: ‘We built this for two reasons. We wanted to create and maintain our fabulous student experience – we’ve risen to number 8 for the UK for student experience, and we’re the only Welsh university under 10 for student experience. We also had a huge demand to work with industry, and what industry is saying is that they needed to have research facilities – they outsource their research facilities now through universities.
‘Gone are the days where big companies have masses of kit and equipment. Some of them still do, but they need what they call the knowledge economy, and this comes through academic research at a cutting edge, that can then be applied, adapted for industry needs and then turned into commercial outputs. We’ve been doing that since 1920, which is when we first started, and in the 1960s we built more facilities at Singleton Park Campus to allow us to do that. At the turn of the millennium we also created the Institute of Life Sciences so we could move into medical engineering and research. Engineering has changed since we built the engineering buildings and there’s new equipment such as 3D printing, added layer manufacturing machines, composite testing, so we knew that we needed to upgrade our facilities and the way to do that was to build a new campus. We put all that amazing equipment in the engineering facilities and have specific research areas that focus on key areas in the world that are common to everyone, such as climate change and sustainability.’
As tuition fees have risen, students clearly expect more from their university experience – including a good chance of employment after their studies. For Swansea, employability is high on the agenda. Alison continues: ‘We are seeing a huge amount of students wanting to get involved in employability and entrepreneurship. For parents and students, when choosing their universities, being able to link students on projects with busineses that engage with research is critically important. Tata, BP, Rolls Royce, some of those big companies take on a huge amount of students as far as work placements, but undergraduate students also are heavily involved in supporting our MEng doctorate programmes and PhDs.
‘We’re really proud to say we’re in the top 20 of universities for employability in the whole of the UK and we’re seeing some huge recognition now with companies. Bringing the School of Management next to the School of Engineering will allow us to offer companies a different experience of that employability agenda – that’s key for us. We look after students from day one, with regard to seeing their future, how they’re going to get a job, and we take them though that process. Some want to be employed and some want to be entrepreneurs, and we’ve built in entrepreneurial programmes now into all our courses. All our academics understand what entrepreneurship is and what employability is. That’s realising an idea and having the support framework to take it forward.’
The Campus also has the distinction of being one of the few global universities with direct access onto a beach and its own seafront promenade, construction of which is underway. There will be a phased opening of other amenities such as banking, a Tesco Express supermarket, and sports and physical recreation facilities during the autumn, and an additional 545 student accommodation rooms will be available from January 2016.
So is it the ‘one-stop shop’ approach that will attract students? Alison thinks so: ‘Students particularly like a campus – you bring people along, create facilities all in one go and people don’t feel alone. It’s very important for attracting international students because the world is not flat anymore – we’re a global university. We have to compete with the south-east Asian universities and the American universities – students can choose to go anywhere they want now in the world and it’s very important that you offer a safe experience. A lot of students deliberately choose a campus university for that reason. We have shops, bars, banks, launderettes, sports facilities, a fabulous library – and, of course, the beach!’