Despite vociferous objections from sections of the UK maritime community when the plans were announced in 2015, Solent University went ahead with closing Warsash Maritime Academy’s waterfront campus, and its cadets are now well-established in their new home in Southampton. So have the initial concerns been borne out? Former Nautilus Council member Brian Hoare went to see for himself
Shock, horror, the Warsash Maritime Academy (WMA) was to cease maritime training at the Warsash site and be incorporated into Solent University in Southampton. The unique ethos would be lost, standards would drop, and cadets would become anonymous as they were subsumed into academia.
Brand Warsash – which had survived four moves, six governance changes and eight name changes during its 110-year history – would be lost forever.
These are thoughts that may have gone through the minds of some members of the Warsash Association when the move was announced in 2015. The Association has a worldwide membership of over 500 former WMA cadets, senior students and staff, all of whom were paying close attention to the changes.
The plans certainly influenced the shipping and training industry, and cadet intakes fell despite Solent University publishing its plans for a major investment in new facilities for cadet training based in Southampton.
The challenge for Solent University was to prove to all interested parties that the worldwide reputation for first-class training at WMA in all its forms since 1909 would not be lost in the transition.
The Warsash Association has had a close relationship with the WMA and its senior management and staff for many years through sponsoring awards, supporting the annual Sail 4 Cancer 24-hour life raft endurance challenge, participating in the annual remembrance observance, attending graduation/prizegiving ceremonies and dinners, and inviting cadets as guests to the Association's Christmas lunch.
Cadets were traditionally offered free membership of the Association for the duration of their training, which gives them access to the website and quarterly journal covering current and past maritime matters and WMA history. With such radical changes proposed, would this link also be lost?
The Association sought to informally engage with Solent University, and it is to the university’s credit that despite it being a time of great pressure, links were established. Reassurances were given to all interested parties that the Warsash brand and reputation would be maintained as part of a £43m investment in maritime training – a huge statement of intent.
The smartly turned out group at the graduation were proud to be identified as Warsash cadets
So, has Solent University met the challenge? I think the answer is yes. The new training facilities became operational in September 2017, the shipping industry has had a chance to evaluate them and cadet intake has returned to previous levels.
I was impressed with the cadets at the graduation ceremony held in July 2019; they were probably the most smartly turned out group of any graduation I have attended in the past. Dressed in white mess kit, they really stood out during the ceremony and were clearly proud to be identified as Warsash cadets. On meeting them at the prizegiving dinner that evening, I found mature and confident officers eager to embark on their first seagoing appointments.
But would other members of the Warsash Association also be convinced that the unique ethos and standards of the old Academy had been successfully transposed to the Solent University campus?
The place to find out was at the Association's Annual General Meeting and social event on 26 and 27 September 2019, based around the maritime faculty at Solent University.
Solent's interim vice chancellor Professor Julie Hall and her colleague Professor Captain Syamantak Bhattacharya – the dean of the Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering – were among four guests from the university at the Association dinner held in the Spark Building on 26 September. During the evening, Professor Hall gave a short presentation explaining recent changes in teaching methods, which are much different from the old 'talk and chalk' days. It was an enjoyable and instructive evening, as well as being our own way of celebrating the IMO International Day of the Seafarer.
Friday 27 September was set aside for 40 members and partners to tour the simulator suite, and then the new cadet training facilities at St Mary’s campus. Simulator training alone represents a £7m investment in six state-of-the-art bridge simulators, an engine room simulator, a liquid cargo simulator, a container crane simulator and a high voltage training facility.
It was impressive and realistic; some members were privileged to play with a twin nozzle tug within Portsmouth harbour. All six bridge simulators can be interlinked for exercises if required and there are debriefing classrooms where radar, ECDIS and video of the bridge team can be displayed to students.
In the afternoon we made the short journey to St Mary's campus, which is the new home of cadet training, and in a strange way the building does have the feeling of a ship when viewed both inside and out. Again we saw modern interactive teaching equipment, a well-equipped engine room workshop, a welding facility and work in progress to convert a space into a training room for EDH Certificate.
Of particular and memorable mention during this visit was a more sombre and poignant moment when the Warsash Association president John Millican presented a replica plaque commemorating the 13 Warsash cadets who lost their lives during the Second World War: six British, three Polish and four Belgian.
The original plaque used to be displayed at the library of the old Warsash, site and is soon to be permanently mounted in St Marys Church, Hook with- Warsash. Professor Millican recounted some of the harrowing circumstances in which the ships were lost, with the youngest cadet being just 16 years old and on his first voyage to sea.
The day ended with all Warsash Association members feeling that, as the WMA embarks on a new chapter in its history as the Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering, it is in good hands. The ethos and standards are intact, and Solent University has met the challenge.
I would encourage all current and former Warsash cadets to visit the Warsash Association website and Facebook page. Please join the Association and help to preserve WMA history while supporting the Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering within Solent University to create a new era of training excellence.
- The Warsash Association was established in 1984 to maintain the comradeship formed whilst studying at Warsash and serving at sea. To join the Association, visit www.warsashassociation.net.
- The Association also has a private Facebook group. To make a request to join this, log in to Facebook and search for the group’s name: The Warsash Association's FB Group.