With 318 computers, 485 screens and 35,000m of data cable installed, work is progressing rapidly at Solent University’s main campus in Southampton on the construction of the new ship and port simulation centre for its Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering.
When it opens its doors in June 2019 it will be the UK’s largest and most sophisticated maritime simulation centre, complete with eight full mission bridge simulators, over 50 part task simulators, a full mission engineering room simulator, HV simulators, liquid cargo simulators, on- and off-shore crane simulators, GMDSS radio communications and VTS suites, DP simulators and four multi-purpose desktop simulation classrooms.
All simulators will be wired for joint exercises between bridge and engine compartments or ship and shore. The simulation centre will make hundreds of ship models available for the cadets and maritime professionals who come to train each year.
However, it doesn't stop there. “The simulation centre, part of an overall investment of more than £43m into maritime education and training facilities, has been designed with the future in mind.” says Lars Lippuner, Head of Commercial Operations at the University’s Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering.
“It will feature a ‘Virtual Shipyard', to test ships which are in the process of being designed or being built, or to create digital twins of existing ships. This allows officers to train in a virtual environment that mirrors their own workplace, further enhancing the experience.”
Research, Safety and the Human-Machine Interface
The simulation centre will also play a pivotal role in the University’s maritime research - from Sea Traffic Management to the machine execution of COLREGS, and further studies looking at navigational safety and the human-machine interface and operations, all key questions facing the maritime industry.
“Digital systems are key to the successful future of the maritime industry and with that comes an undeniable demand for digital skills across the maritime workforce.” continues Lars. “In a fast evolving world it is crucial that students receive the best educational foundation in their initial studies, and are able to expand on it through continuous learning throughout their professional careers - the new simulation centre will do exactly that.”
The investment into new maritime facilities began with new cadet training facilities, opened in January 2018 by HRH The Princess Royal, who is also the Master of the seafarers' charity Trinity House. The new surroundings have proven very popular with cadets and lecturers alike.
“Future-proofing our cadets, including many of whom are lucky to be supported by the Trinity House Merchant Navy Scholarship Scheme (MNSS), and providing the best possible support for our students are key aspects of our investment.” Lars insists.
A good example is educational technology in the classrooms: The lecturer’s voice and everything that is displayed and written on the 64” interactive screens is recorded and automatically uploaded to the cadets' online virtual learning environment. That way all cadets can fully concentrate and engage during lessons, rather than simply focusing on note-taking. It also allows cadets to revisit a part of a lecture at their own speed and, crucially, ahead of the all-important MCA oral exams.
For lessons containing more ‘show and tell’ such as explanations of various engineering equipment or demonstrations of chart work, HD cameras are installed which display the content on the screens and which, yet again, are uploaded to the online environment, supporting in-class education.
However, it is not only about technology. The learner will always remain at the heart of education and therefore a lot of emphasis is placed on both academic and pastoral support. The skills of lecturers are continuously being developed, benefitting from the Solent Learning and Teaching Institute. A dedicated cadet manager ensures that cadets are well looked after and have somewhere to got to seek support. The University has strong student support services in place, including important mental health services.
Technology & Skills for the Future
Warsash benefits from an enviable reputation, earned from years of innovation at the forefront of maritime training and education. It would be wrong to rest on one's laurels and just do more of the same. “Speak to cadets of 20-30 years ago and you will quickly realise that many of the UK’s current cadet training programmes have hardly evolved over this time. It is time to update these programmes and make them more relevant to the current working environment." says Lars.
“Let’s take engineers for example: While manual skills remain important, the approved syllabi place very little emphasis on systems engineering, which is a key part of a marine engineer's working environment. But let’s go further than that and think really hard about future skills – not many ships carry 3D printers yet, but there is little doubt that this will change. Shouldn’t we therefore start to give future chief engineers a taste of the technology which is likely to become an integral part of their future career?”
It is crucial that this development work is undertaken in close collaboration with industry stakeholders: Regulatory bodies, shipping companies, maritime charities such as Trinity House and cadet management companies (such as Chiltern Maritime, which very effectively manages the MNSS cadets).
In these discussions, a long-term view is essential: Cadets embark on lifelong maritime careers, based at sea or/and on shore. Solent University, with its programmes for both seagoing and shore-based personnel, is uniquely placed to offer programmes for those wanting to further their career opportunities through further studies.
Cadets have the opportunity to top-up their foundation degree in nautical science or marine engineering to a full BSc or BEng degree. Those who hold a management level CoC and have held senior positions on board ships have the chance to enrol on an MSc programme in Shipping Operations conducted by distance learning.
Mariners require continuous professional development, therefore it is only logical that a vast amount of the investment will be used for the facilities which stay at the Warsash campus. Once the simulation centre has been launched the focus will change to expanding the safety training facilities at Warsash. This will see an increase in the size of the fire school and, finally, building of the survival pool.
The expansion of the safety training facilities in Warsash will mark the completion of a five-year long transformative investment. The ethos and aim of Warsash remains the same, but it will benefit from a new and improved set of tools to meet these ambitions.
“These are exciting times. The world, including the maritime industry and those working within it, is changing and we are changing with it. This is a very forward looking development, it puts us in a strong position and ensures that future generations of seafarers receive the best possible education." says Lars.
“The result will be the success of our cadets, very much in line with Darwin’s view that ‘Those who adapt and adjust best to the changing environment are the ones who find themselves in the strongest position’.”