Coast is clear for south-west study

Students are heading for south-west universities for more than just the sea air, says Susannah Kirkman
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Engineering, oceanography, medical subjects and Celtic studies are among the academic highlights in Wales and the South-west. The region's universities have built up an enviable track record in a wide range of engineering degrees; Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol and Bath hold the top four places in most league tables for civil engineering, while Bath has the highest score for aeronautical and manufacturing engineering. Bristol and Southampton both have high ratings for electrical and electronic engineering.

Engineering, oceanography, medical subjects and Celtic studies are among the academic highlights in Wales and the South-west. The region's universities have built up an enviable track record in a wide range of engineering degrees; Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol and Bath hold the top four places in most league tables for civil engineering, while Bath has the highest score for aeronautical and manufacturing engineering. Bristol and Southampton both have high ratings for electrical and electronic engineering.

What is the secret of their success?

It's a circular process of top-notch departments attracting first-rate students, according to Dr Gary Lock, admissions tutor for the aeronautical and manufacturing course at Bath University, a four-year M Eng which is accredited by the professional engineering institutes.

"Our students have an average of 28 points at A-level, and the department has the top scores for research and teaching. All our lecturers are research-active, but they're also enthusiastic teachers, and it's a very friendly, small department," Dr Lock said.

The department has strong links with major engineering companies in the UK, including Dyson, whose founder has spoken at Bath's annual design exhibition, a showcase for the project work of third- and fourth- year students.

Third years also have the option of spending a year working in industry, and some students combine the MEng with French or German, spending a year abroad. The linguists can choose an industrial placement and a research project at a university in France or Germany.

Civil engineering students at Swansea, another top-rated department, can also combine their BEng or MEng with French, German or Spanish and a year abroad. Excellent links with industry and a wide range of options give the course its edge, according to Lynette Jones, the admissions tutor. Students can choose modules on hydrology, computational design or environmental design, while third- and fourth-years can do projects with local engineering companies.

Graduates from Bristol's highly successful electrical and electronic engineering course can expect initial salaries of up to £30,000 around the world, according to Professor David Bull, who is head of the department.

"We offer dynamic courses which are very relevant to industry and all the latest developments in the field," Professor Bull explained. "The high quality of research in the department percolates down to the undergraduates." Bristol academics collaborate with industries in the Far East, Australia, the US and Europe, as well as with the city's own post-production film and TV industry.

Bristol also has exceptionally well-equipped labs which undergraduates can use for their project work. The department has recently received a grant of £7.62m from the Department for Trade and Industry for a new Centre for Communications, Computing and Content, which aims to bring top academics and industry together to promote research.

Oceanography is another area of excellence in Wales and the South-west. Plymouth and Southampton have top teaching ratings, as do Cardiff's maritime studies and Bangor's ocean science courses.

Bangor has its own ocean-going research ship, and all final-year students go on an oceanographic cruise. The department has its own workshops for developing new scientific equipment and laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation.

Bangor employs leading international researchers in all aspects of marine science, from the Antarctic to the tropics, and from the deep ocean to the coasts, to create an exciting multi-disciplinary environment.

The department's immediate surroundings on the Menai Strait are stunning, next to the sea and in the shadow of the Snowdonia mountains. Students can enjoy water sports, as well as exploring the many shore types within easy reach of the university.

Two of the region's universities offer distinctive medical courses. At Southampton, which has a top rating for teaching, the medical and clinical teaching is closely integrated, with students attached to a GP's surgery from week one. The trainee doctors are videoed during consultations so that they can spot their own mistakes.

From 2003, Southampton will offer eight weeks of joint teaching to trainee medics, nurses, pharmacists and students from related disciplines such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

Another innovation at Southampton is the introduction of a foundation year for students without the right qualifications, which is aimed at entrants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The University of Wales School of Medicine at Cardiff, which is graded excellent for teaching, also offers a six-year degree course for those without science A-levels; it is trying to recruit medical students from non-typical backgrounds, who may have more in common with their patients than the traditional upper-middle class entrant.

Not surprisingly, Celtic Studies is another strength in the region. Aberystwyth and Bangor both score the maximum points for teaching and research in Welsh. The Welsh department at Bangor was founded more than a hundred years ago, and today's students can opt for courses ranging from Celtic mythology and the Arthurian legend to the Welsh hymn and the literature of film and TV. Students who can't speak Welsh can take English-medium courses and learn Welsh from scratch.

Comments