Science

Co-location of science schools in Transforming Cardiff

Pictured: Outlined in the document are options for partially or fully co-locating the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (Image). Source: Wikipedia.org

By Jonathan Learmont

The Way Forward strategy set £200m per annum of income from research grants and contracts by 2023 as a target, rising from the £105.9m reported last year. Another goal is to facilitate interdisciplinary and collaborative activity within the University and beyond in the context of research. By the first criteria alone, the Transforming Cardiff document approved by the Council has not offered any surprises, as increasing income, excellence and focus in key research areas has remained a priority. However, the manner collaboration is likely to be promoted in a selection of the science schools is more surprising, and is at least in part due to the university running a deficit.

Prominently featured in the report are plans to make changes to courses in the School of Healthcare Sciences and locating the school at a single facility at Heath Park. During the Q&A regarding Transforming Cardiff, Professor Gary Baxter, Pro-Vice Chancellor, College of Biomedical and Life Sciences, made clear that any course changes were “not primarily financially motivated” and would be determined by routine negotiations with the Welsh Government. As a result, the possibility courses including Occupational Therapy will be taught elsewhere after currently enrolled students have finished was not ruled out. Professor Baxter said, “I can’t say for certain that any programme that is delivered in Cardiff will continue to be […] in 2023”. According to a Cardiff University spokesperson, co-location of Eastgate House to Heath Park seeks to bring about the development of inter-professional working” at the “earliest opportunity” as a result of issues raised by staff and students regarding split site working. Given the aim to increase research income across the university, recognising these issues will hopefully promote healthcare research output as a by-product of greater collaboration in healthcare science.

The possible co-location of the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences has raised concern regarding sharing space. Although Professor Baxter acknowledged the “high performace” of undergraduate Optometry, the cost of delivering the course and large estate footprint has led to the suggestion in the document of allocating space more effectively between the two schools. A spokesman for the university said “It is important to stress that there are no plans for space sharing at present”, and any strategy would likely require retention of the specialised optometry clinical teaching facility on the ground floor of the Maindy Road building”, which may suggest physical co-location is unlikely to be total when proposals are formalised. Among the touted benefits for research through co-location are more opportunities for inter-professional education, leading to more collaborative research and consequently higher research income by sharing facilities.

It is uncertain whether due to the upcoming Post-18 Education and Funding Review, tuition fees will rise to up to £13,500 per academic year for STEM subjects because students are expected to have a higher future wages and courses are more expensive to deliver. If this is indeed part of the review, greater fee income could make current costs of the mentioned science schools more sustainable. An increase in fees risks acting as a deterrent to prospective STEM students nationwide; a rise in fees would increase the difficulty of attracting the desired 4% rise in total student numbers in Cardiff by 2023, even though international students are one of the main groups targeted. Leaving the EU will likely have a larger effect on their numbers.

Also not included in current forecasts which affects the cost of science degrees is the Diamond Review. Produced by the Welsh Government in 2016, it looked into higher education and student finance arrangements in Wales. Included is the proposal for universities to receive a top up of £660 per student for one of several science subjects where the cost of teaching is above £9,000 for undergraduates. This would total £38m provided by the Higher Education Funding Council across Wales and implementation might mitigate the need for co-location as proposals are drawn up over the next few months. But on the effect of this review, Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Bethan Sayed said “there is […] no concrete guarantee that changes as a result of the Diamond Review will bring in the extra money that Universities increasingly need.”

A clearer picture will emerge over the coming weeks and months as uncertainty over the reviews is reduced, and discussions between stakeholders of the university dictate the plans that form around Transforming Cardiff. Chief Financial Officer Rob Williams stated during the Q&A that for the university to be financially sustainable, such plans will cause “quite a lot of disruption to business as usual”. Scientific research and teaching at Cardiff University will certainly be part of those changes to business as usual.

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