The main reason I wanted to visit was to gain a first impression of the university and campus, much the same way that you would if you were to attend an open day or, better still, pop along for a visit as, well, a uni student. The fact is that I look like any other student, or maybe a youthful lecturer (cue mocking laughter), and so was not concerned about just wandering around and getting a feel for the place. In fact I am writing this post whilst sat drinking a hot chocolate in the on-campus Starbucks, which is heaving I might add.
So, what first impressions and what can a whole new set of veterinary pioneers expect to find when they arrive fresh faced and eager to begin their studies. My visit started with having to fork out a scandalous amount of change on car parking, with the only options being ‘all day’ or ‘all day.’ The fact that my pockets were made lighter did at least make the gentle uphill stroll to the centre of the Stag’s Hill Campus a little easier, with the route taking me past a number of classic student accommodation blocks, although the new crop of vet students are due to be based, and housed, at the university’s Manor Park campus, located a little further west, on the edge of the Royal Surrey County Hospital & Research Park. The ‘centre,’ if you can judge the students union as that, is a fairly typical twentieth century affair, with mostly uninspiring concrete block buildings housing the usual range of services, from cafeterias to bars to student information offices to the aforementioned international coffee chains. The biological and health sciences blocks, which it can only be assumed at this stage might host some of the vet teaching, sit directly behind, or in front of depending on your orientation, of the union and I am sure that the teaching and research being conducted inside is infinitely more inspiring than the exterior facades.
There are some quite pretty areas of the main Stag Hill campus, from the lake to Guildford Cathedral, which sits within the campus and atop an easily scaled hill. With the sun shining brightly today it was easy to see why a group of staff (I think) had elected to take their exercise class in the cathedral’s impressive shadow. There are a number of newer buildings and, like any university with ambition and space, the campus seems to be growing. It remains to be seen whether the vet course will see the building of brand new facilities, although I suspect it will, and even whether the new students will even be taught on the main campus. [Since writing this, it has been made public that new facilities will be built on the Manor Park campus, including research and teaching labs, diagnostic and teaching pathology facilities and clinical teaching areas. The work is due to start in 2014, with completion scheduled for August 2015. The first twenty five students to enter the vet course will therefore use existing facilities, which may include those based on the Stag’s Hill campus]. I look forward to learning more along with you all as we get closer to the first round of admissions.
What of the students themselves? The first thing to report is that there is a good cross section of students represented on campus and a good international blend, with English, Russian, Chinese, and a number of other languages entering my hearing range as I sit and type. It will be interesting to see what happens when 100 or so over-achieving future vets are thrown into the mix. My prediction is that it won’t take long for them to make their mark 🙂 I had the pleasure of striking up a conversation with two students in the cafe, one studying Chemistry and the other English, and so was offered a first-hand insight into life as a Guildford student, although the establishment of a vet school was news to them. One interesting fact was that the Student Union is the largest in the country and is consistently ranked highly for the range of facilities and services offered. Mentoring and student support also appears to be a big focus, with some claiming that there could even be too much on offer, if that were possible. With Guildford only a short walk from the campus, there are obviously more social and cultural opportunities available than those offered on campus alone. Quite whether Guildford can match the cultural richness of most of the other vet school cities, such as Cambridge, is questionable and the university itself doesn’t have anywhere near the history or, dare I say it, perceived prestige as the more red-brick of it’s veterinary counterparts. As a predominantly affluent area, it didn’t come as a surprise to hear that two of the university’s big pub-crawls have been cancelled due to complaints from city residents about the noise. What, pray tell, will they make of AVS Sports Weekend then?! They wont know what’s hit them! But will this matter? Does this matter? Is it surely not more important that the vet course delivers the very best education and training whilst students have access to modern, affordable amenities such as health and fitness – they will as the sports complex is awesome, complete with a 50m pool and climbing walls – and, anyway, London is no more than a short train journey away so those wanting their culture fix will be able to sate their appetites and in doing so rub shoulders with RVC students (vet school rivalry anyone?).
Overall, I guess that my initial impressions are probably guided in large part by the fact that I am somewhat biased and loyal to my alma mater, a fine red-brick university with a very rich history and set in a beautiful and culturally deep city, so I will try and reserve judgement. All most aspiring vet students really care about, at the end of the day, is whether they get a place and there is employment at the end of their training. The arrival of the University of Surrey on the scene makes the chances of the former a little more favourable although it is still being debated how the latter will be affected. We watch this space.
Some facts about the new vet school:
- Will be based at the University of Surrey’s Manor Park campus
- The school’s ethos will be on ‘One Health,’ emphasising the links between animal and human health
- The school’s key focuses are proposed to be veterinary pathology, livestock medicine, and research
- The university has forged various partnerships with organisations including the VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate), Pirbright Institute, and local veterinary providers, including Westpoint Farm Vets, Liphook Equine Hospital, and Fitzpatrick Referrals
- Students will have the opportunity to see practice and spend time studying overseas through the university’s participation in the University Global Partnership Network (UGPN), which is a trilateral agreement with North Carolina State University (USA) and the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil)
- The first intake in September 2014 will be just 25 students – tiny in comparison with the average vet school intake
- Once all building work is complete, the proposed annual intake is for 100 vet students