Welcome week, Carlisle. General view of the Learning Gateway, Fusehill Street. Pic: Lee Boswell 24/09/13

The University of Cumbria is investing £1.2m to find the next generation of scientists.

Staff are using the money to develop a new teaching programme of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and a high-spec laboratory in Carlisle. 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 bids were for £256,000 and £748,000 with the university making up the remaining £256,000. The first phase of work 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 plan is for the labs to be finished in time for next academic year starting in September. The first three new STEM courses to be offered this year include BsC (Hons) Biology. For 2016 onwards, the university will develop new courses in chemistry, biomedical science and other related areas of STEM. Peter Strike, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cumbria, said: “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, particularly in the STEM subjects.

The university’s hopes that the skills and knowledge acquired from studying applied bioscience and analytical chemistry degrees, together with professional body accreditations, will create a wider pool of skilled graduates to supply the regional economy. When the investment was announced, Councillor Colin Glover, Leader of Carlisle City Council, said: “We recognise and wholeheartedly support the efforts of the University to develop its offer in Carlisle. We see great value in creating a STEM facility. Attracting and subsequently retaining high value graduates and post graduates within our city region is another key target for the Council and its partners. “This new STEM offer will help bring higher value skills and jobs to our city region and in turn help stimulate other new opportunities for investment and development along the M6 corridor and within the city area. We applaud the university’s commitment to Carlisle.”

The work is particularly important because 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. Pat McIver, Site Biopharm Lead, GSK Ulverston, said: “The new factory will require STEM jobs at all levels, including apprentices, graduates and post graduates. “The university’s investment will respond to our needs, improve progression into higher education in key disciplines of biology and chemistry and will help us to recruit from the local area. “This is a great opportunity for Cumbria to secure valuable resource for its young people. It will not only benefit GSK, but also other science and technology companies based in Cumbria, thereby making a contribution to economic growth and our local communities.”

In addition the university will create programmes to increase 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.