The investment is the result of two successful bids to England’s education funding authority, HEFCE, and to the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), as well as matched investment from the university.
The successful bids were for £256,000 and £748,000 respectively, with the university making up the remaining £256,000.
The investment will be a phased development, the first phase of which will provide new high-quality teaching laboratory space at the university’s Fusehill Street Campus, Carlisle, fitted out with the technology and equipment to support teaching of the new STEM subject courses.
The new laboratory space will, initially, provide 40 bench spaces for multi-purpose teaching across a range of STEM subjects.
The plan is for the labs to be finished in time for next academic year starting this September. The first three new STEM courses to be offered this year are Bsc (Hons) Biology, Bsc (Hons) Zoology and Bsc (Hons) Marine and Fresh Water Conservation. All of these courses are now open to applicants and are recruiting well.
For 2016 onwards, the university will develop new courses in chemistry, biomedical science and other related areas of STEM.
The investment forms part of the university’s wider ambition to develop its presence in the county and to work closely with partners in further education colleges to ensure that the STEM progression routes and higher education courses available in Cumbria provide the trained graduates that local employers need.
Peter Strike, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cumbria, said: “This investment signifies the university’s commitment to providing high-quality education to Cumbria. The new laboratory, along with the development of a new STEM curriculum and partnerships with further education providers and major local employers, will result in a joined-up approach that will provide excellent educational prospects for our students and more job opportunities in the local area.
“Our aim is to increase the number, the attractiveness and the accessibility of STEM careers for our university students. By promoting closer co-operation with our local further education colleges, we intend to create a ladder of opportunity for training in STEM subjects in Cumbria and beyond.”
Participation in higher education in Cumbria is traditionally low, and in the STEM subjects particularly so. The west coast of Cumbria has one of the lowest higher education participation rates in the UK and in some areas participation is falling rather than rising.
Currently, there is no university provision within Cumbria in mainstream STEM subjects such as biology and chemistry.
The University sought the funding to develop facilities which will allow them to increase STEM participation within the local area.
The university’s intention is that the skills and knowledge acquired from studying applied bioscience and analytical chemistry degrees, together with professional body accreditation where applicable, will enhance student employability prospects and create a wider pool of skilled graduates to supply the regional economy.
The laboratory forms part of an integrated approach for working in collaboration with further education partners to develop more progression routes into STEM subjects.
As well as this, the university will develop courses which aim to meet the needs of local industrial employers who will require STEM graduate and postgraduate skills.
In particular, there will be an increased need for biosciences graduates in Cumbria with the development of the new GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) £350m biopharmaceutical facility in Ulverston and an increase in demand from Sellafield for scientists.
In addition the university will create innovative programmes to feed the pool of qualified teachers of STEM subjects. There are acute shortages nationally of teachers in some areas of the STEM curriculum such as chemistry and physics and the university will seek to develop new provision to help to address this need. The new lab will form part of this new provision.