University of Southampton receives funding to address the UK’s skills shortage in photonics
The University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) has been awarded funding to develop much-needed skills for the photonics industry.
The £200,000 in funding is from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Catalyst Fund programme, to support the Industrial Strategy through curriculum development. It will enable the ORC to focus on addressing the skills shortage in the highly-buoyant field of photonics – the science and technology of light. In particular, the Centre will link with other universities and partners from industry to develop the skillsets associated with the design and fabrication of photonics devices and circuits in advanced materials.
To deliver its Catalyst Fund activities, Southampton will work closely with the universities of Surrey, Cardiff, Manchester and University College London, and alongside key partners and investors including Rockley Photonics, Oclaro Technology, Huawei UK, Optocap and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), whilst continuing to seek further industrial partners to work on bespoke curricula going forward.
The Centre will build on its capacity for offering bespoke courses for workforce training and upskilling, focused on the individual companies’ requirements, by also integrating fabrication-related skills into existing accredited undergraduate and Masters-level courses at each of the partner universities, centred on Southampton’s world-class cleanroom facilities. This key aspect of the programme will enable other universities across the UK to introduce device fabrication into their curricula, without the need to invest the very considerable sums required to establish fabrication facilities at each and every institution. Consequently, their students will be able to engage in the full life cycle of device realisation by carrying out the modelling, design, fabrication, and testing of photonics components, with the fabrication element being achieved at Southampton.
“The University of Southampton has a unique fabrication capability that is already available and open for collaborative projects, which can be effectively utilised by universities and industry alike, to train and retrain their students and staff,” said Professor Graham Reed, ORC Deputy Director and Director of Cleanroom Operations. “A key component of our activities will be curriculum development to close skills gaps in the important area of manufacturing and future materials, to help stimulate support for, and sustain economic growth locally, regionally, and nationally, in line the government’s Industrial Strategy.”
“Whilst there is a significant skills gap to be addressed, higher education providers lack the advanced capital intensive infrastructures required to provide training,” Professor Reed continued. “Our proposal seeks to remove this barrier by providing broader access across UK academia with students at other universities able to take advantage of our world-class fabrication facilities here in Southampton to advance their own skills, combined with added support from major industry partners.”
“This will result in a better-trained and more productive workforce, a closing of the skills gap, a better student experience and, of course, additional training both in universities and industry,” Professor Reed concluded. “These advantages are clearly beneficial for HEFCE, the government, UK universities, industry, students themselves and ultimately, the wider public.”
Over 30 universities and colleges in England have been awarded a share of £6.1 million by HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund programme through this latest round of funding, with additional investment provided by the universities and colleges involved.
HEFCE’s investment will help to enhance graduate outcomes and employability, and upskill the workforce - providing the key skills that industry and employers will need, and contributing to UK productivity in the longer term.
Prospective collaborators from industry who would like to join the ORC in its Catalyst Fund activities, or are interested in using the Centre’s cleanrooms and other fabrication facilities for more commercially-focused projects should contact Professor Graham Reed via email: G.Reed@soton.ac.uk.