College of Nautical Studies - 1984-1989 (Professor John Millican)

The period between 1984 and 2006 saw Warsash transformed from an independent college into a fully integrated part of Southampton Solent University. 

This transition was brought about by two political forces. The first, during the early years of the Thatcher government, was the drive to take the cost of running specialist colleges like Warsash away from the local authorities by merging them into large, financially-independent ‘education corporations. Southampton Institute (‘the Institute’) was created in 1984 when The College of Nautical Studies was transferred from the local authority to join an earlier merger between The College of Art and The College of Technology. The Institute become a higher education corporation in 1989.

The second political driver for change was the move from an elite to a mass system of higher education. Southampton Institute was formed in the lead-up to the removal of ‘the binary divide’ between the universities and the polytechnics; after 1992 no more polytechnics would be created and the existing ones would become universities. Instead of being accessible to only a very small minority, the university sector was to be opened up by becoming larger and more diverse, a move that reached its zenith with Tony Blair’s ambition that 50% of young people should experience a university education. The rapid expansion of the university sector posed an existential threat to bodies like Southampton Institute which were less prestigious and did not have the power to award their own degrees, so the Board of Governors set the Institute’s management the target of achieving university status as soon as possible.

The early years of Southampton Institute
Warsash was renamed The College of Maritime Studies. Captain Chris Phelan remained as Director whilst also becoming a Vice-Principal of Southampton Institute. When he resigned in 1988 Captain Mike Longman took the helm.

In the financial climate of the 1980’s the Warsash estate was deemed to be too large for its level of activity and for a while non-maritime courses were transferred from the East Park Terrace campus in Southampton to take up the spare capacity. However, the local residents objected to the increased number of student cars coming into the village and so the size of the campus was reduced instead. The outlying houses were all sold; Springfields, Red Tiles, Salterns and Golf House. The Gilchrist hall of residence, and the area to the rear which housed the Petrochemical centre and the bridge simulators were also sold, as was the navigation training vessel Somerset and the sailing ketch Halcyon. The playing fields at Hook Park were disposed of to save the cost of maintaining them.

The early years also saw a very radical restructuring which was designed to break down the departmental structures which had been inherited from the original three colleges. All academic courses were now allocated to a number of new ‘divisions’ (later renamed ‘faculties’) whilst vocational training and commercial activities were formed into ‘centres. The consequence for Warsash was that the College of Maritime Studies name was discontinued and courses split into two entirely separate departments. The short courses became the Maritime Operations Centre whilst the cadet and senior certification courses were transferred into a new Maritime Division together with courses in maritime leisure management, yacht construction and the like.

Warsash Maritime Centre
The new structure created operational problems and was unpopular with the company Training Managers who were used to having one point of contact for all their requirements. In 1995, when this unhappiness had begun to be reflected in cadet numbers, the cadet and senior certification courses were put back with the short courses in what now became Warsash Maritime Centre, with Captain George Angas as Director.

Although this was a very welcome structural change the fact that it was now designated a ‘centre’ (rather than a ‘faculty’ or ‘school’) marked it out as being outside of the academic mainstream. Warsash had been taken out of Southampton University some years earlier when it was thought that training institutions did not really belong in the universities, and so the question now arose whether it should remain in the Institute as it pursued university status. The alternative was to transfer it into the commercial sector, an option which was actively considered for a while.

Professor John Millican became Director of Warsash Maritime Centre in 2001.

Towards university status
The remit of the universities is higher education, i.e. to conduct research and to develop students into critical, independent learners within their academic discipline. Vocational courses, however rigorous, which do not have an analytical, critical element are usually classified as ‘further’ rather than ‘higher’ education and tend to be delivered in FE colleges rather than universities.

The training of ships’ officers clearly comes into this category; cadets have to learn the Rule of the Road, not engage in philosophical debates about them, and there is nothing academic about learning to launch a lifeboat. But there was also some very good quality research being conducted at Warsash, especially using the ship simulators, and Warsash staff were regularly engaged in working on consultancy projects with the shipping industry. All of this was very clearly work appropriate to a university so over the next few years, in the lead-up to the assessment for university title, the volume and profile of the research, consultancy and conference papers being produced by Warsash staff was increased. This provided a more academic overall profile without compromising the quality and focus of the vocational courses.

The Institute duly gained its degree-awarding powers and university status, becoming Southampton Solent University in 2005. The following year, 2006, Warsash was renamed Warsash Maritime Academy.