Education and industry to unite at new University site

Posted on 1st March 2013

A world-class centre of excellence in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, will remain at the forefront of scientific research and development as the University of Chester acquires the Shell Technology Centre, Thornton, thus championing investment in the North West.

The University of Chester has long been synonymous with ensuring that Cheshire West and Chester is ‘open for business,’ and our commitment at Thornton could bring up to 2,000 jobs to Ellesmere Port over the next five years, together with perpetuating Shell’s distinguished reputation.
Professor Tim Wheeler, Vice-Chancellor

As one of the biggest public/private sector collaborations the county has seen in recent years, the move will acknowledge almost 75 years of advanced research undertaken by Shell.

This considerable legacy, will now be applied by the University to continue to promote and progress research and innovation at the site.

The University’s offering at Thornton can be summarised as three-fold:

  • Establishing an internationally-renowned campus, aligning students directly with food, engineering and chemicals industries, with the creation of the University’s eighth Faculty – that of Engineering and Technology;

  • Accommodating pre-start and high growth small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from the environment, engineering, advanced manufacturing and automotive sectors, by offering 22 ‘incubator’ spaces on-site, to access specialist knowledge, expertise, facilities and equipment;

  • Further unlocking the region’s economic potential, through attracting and retaining multi-national firms by providing attractive commercial options for partnerships with the University and other stakeholders at a dedicated science park within the M56/A55 Industrial Innovation Corridor.

This will include an international-standard Food Processing and Sensory Solutions Centre (conducting work on areas including product testing and development) and communal laboratory and office space.

The scale and scope of the University’s Thornton plans will mean many new employment opportunities in Ellesmere Port, not only associated with the academic provision, but also with the day-to-day operation of the site in its newly extended roles.

Professor Tim Wheeler, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said: “The University of Chester has long been synonymous with ensuring that Cheshire West and Chester is ‘open for business,’ and our commitment at Thornton could bring up to 2,000 jobs to Ellesmere Port over the next five years, together with perpetuating Shell’s distinguished reputation.

"Thornton, with 1,100,000 square feet of space in 48 buildings, is the most substantial acquisition in the University’s history, as the institution enters its 175th year and the next phase in its evolution, which should see it sitting more prominently on the international stage – and taking Cheshire West and Chester with it.

“The Engineering and Technology agenda is very much a growth area for the University and the region and will complement both their existing strengths. It is also a national priority in terms both of education and training, innovation and business, so understandably, Thornton is already attracting significant interest.

"The University's vision for the Thornton site is to build on the excellent foundations laid by Shell to create an internationally-recognised, financially self-sustaining and multi-disciplinary campus that targets and stimulates private sector growth through employment, education and inward investment. It will integrate students with employers and employees.”

As a registered charity, the University will take legal ownership of the 66-acre site through a ‘gifting’ agreement with Shell, which is currently relocating its operations to a number of other premises in the UK and overseas.

Ed Daniels, Chairman, Shell UK: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with the University of Chester which will ensure that innovation and technology will remain a key contributor to the local and regional economy and community and which builds on Shell’s long history of manufacturing and technical innovation in the region. The University has formed some very exciting and robust plans for the development of the site and we wish them the very best in bringing these to fruition”

The University already contributes more than £298 million per year to the region's economy. It has the potential to secure an initial £35.8 million in capital funding to support Thornton's future regeneration as a science park, incorporating corresponding educational and business development activities.

Considerable further investment will result from:

  • The ongoing revenue from up to 500 additional student places (15% of them postgraduates) recruited over the next five years;

  • Government funding specific to the academic programmes associated with Thornton;

  • Rental income from businesses occupying workshops and offices and using laboratory facilities;

  • Consultancy fees from research and knowledge transfer projects.

Overwhelming support has been received from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS); the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE); Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Andrew Miller and Chester MP Stephen Mosley; and the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, said: "This is an exciting development for the University of Chester and the North West of England. The research and innovation centre in Thornton will act as a real hub for students and local businesses to develop their ideas, commercialise them and take them into the market place. "Not only has the site got the potential to generate new jobs, it will also contribute to the UK’s growing technology sector, building links between the university and industry. In turn that will give a real boost to economic growth and keep the UK at the front of the global race for technology and innovation."

Andrew Miller MP, Ellesmere Port and Neston, who is also Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee added: “Thornton has the potential to be a world-class chemical innovation centre in the high-tech engineering sectors. This is a model that transcends party politics, and the partnership between industry, trade bodies and the University will ensure that the site delivers its true potential.”

The University’s occupancy will be phased over the next 18 months, as Shell continues to hand over the site, which includes purpose-built laboratories, petrochemical fuel analysis facilities, workshops, engine testing cells and offices, together with a gym and sports pitches and a restaurant.

The Faculty of Engineering and Technology

The Thornton site will be designed specifically to take forward the Government’s stated aims of addressing national skills shortages in the science and technology markets.

The University has one of the best track records in the region in terms of graduate employability, and preparing students for ‘careers of service’ is in accordance with its mission.

Thornton will appeal to anyone wishing to study engineering locally, with future employment or career development in the region’s manufacturing industries in mind.

The curriculum includes theoretical teaching combined with practical, hands-on experience.

Eventually, this will include an entire suite of qualifications from HNC and HND through foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to the highest levels of post-doctoral research.

It is intended that students will also be recruited from partner businesses to continue their career progression with continuing professional development (CPD.)

There will be an emphasis on the application of new technologies and energy efficiency, to service the chemical manufacturing, energy, materials science and food industries, and facilities will include bio-related laboratories, in short supply in the North West.

Faculty staff will combine mainstream teaching with high level research for academic and commercial purposes.

The campus will build on the University’s existing strengths in food, health and occupational health and safety, with curriculum development allied with the engineering, chemical and automotive industries.

New subjects will include:

  • Geotechnical Engineering. Nationally, there is a shortfall in well-qualified geosciences staff. The North West has almost 20% of the brownfield land awaiting redevelopment in the English regions, with issues associated with the impact of industrial history, such as subsidence and land contamination. Flood risk due to climate change is also a concern for many of the region’s properties and the North West has an increasingly prominent role to play in securing UK energy needs of the next decade. Such local considerations will form part of the students’ syllabus.

  • Mechanical Engineering. Established and emerging industries relating to areas as diverse as vehicle design and renewable energy and sustainability use the latest computer-aided systems to design innovative solutions to engineering problems. At Thornton, students will learn skills and knowledge which is directly applicable to these areas.

  • Electronic/Electrical Engineering. This will teach students how to meet the challenge of finding technical solutions for a new generation of high performance products and services, such as power systems and IT devices. Initially, for students admitted for entry in 2014, two existing buildings will be adapted, to provide a learning resource centre, teaching spaces and laboratories. These will be occupied by academic and support staff, including technicians, librarians, administrators and those involved in business development and IT.

Responsive to local industry needs, the University will be able to offer the students in this new Faculty relevant apprenticeships/work placements. The professional and career-focused environment will equip them with the transferrable skills and experience to enable them to find jobs in specialisms of high demand.