University of Plymouth

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The University of Plymouth is a public research university based predominantly in Plymouth, England, where the main campus is located, but the university has campuses and affiliated colleges across South West England. With 18,410 students, it is the 57th largest in the United Kingdom by total number of students (including the Open University).

University of Plymouth
Coat of arms of the University of Plymouth
Former names
MottoLatin: Indagate Fingite Invenite
Motto in English
Explore Dream Discover
Established1992 – University status
1970 – Plymouth Polytechnic
1862 – School of Navigation[1][2]
Budget£235.1 million (2021–22)[3]
ChancellorJonathan Kestenbaum, Baron Kestenbaum
Vice-ChancellorJudith Petts[4]
Academic staff
Administrative staff
915 (est.)[6]
Students18,910 (2020/21)[7]
Undergraduates15,200 (2020/21)[7]
Postgraduates3,710 (2020/21)[7]

50°22′27″N 4°08′19″W / 50.374121°N 4.138512°W / 50.374121; -4.138512
Dark Blue
AffiliationsAssociation of Commonwealth Universities
Channel Islands Universities Consortium
Universities UK



1862 – 2000


The university was originally founded as the Plymouth School of Navigation in 1862,[1][2] before becoming a university college in 1920 and a polytechnic institute in 1970,[1] with its constituent bodies being Plymouth Polytechnic, Rolle College in Exmouth, the Exeter College of Art and Design (which were, before April 1989, run by Devon County Council) and Seale-Hayne College (which before April 1989 was an independent charity). It was renamed Polytechnic South West in 1989, a move that was unpopular with students as the name lacked identity. It was the only polytechnic to be renamed and remained as "PSW" until gaining university status in 1992 along with the other polytechnics. The new university absorbed the Plymouth School of Maritime Studies.

2000 – 2020


In 2006, part of the remains of the World War II Portland Square air-raid shelter were rediscovered on the Plymouth campus.[9] On the night of 22 April 1941, during the Blitz, a bomb fell on the site killing over 70 civilians, including a mother and her six children.[9] The bomb blast was so strong that human remains were found in the tops of trees. Only three people escaped alive, all children.

The university's first vice-chancellor was John Bull. He was succeeded by Roland Levinsky until his death on 1 January 2007, when he walked into live electrical cables brought down during a storm.[10] He was temporarily replaced by Mark Cleary (who then became vice-chancellor of the University of Bradford until 2013),[11] and then by Steve Newstead. Wendy Purcell became VC on 1 December 2007. She was placed on leave on 2 July 2014 by the university's governors while an internal review was conducted.[12] A month later the Higher Education Funding Council for England requested an independent external review of the university's governance.[13] In August 2014, the university was instructed by HEFCE to undertake an external review of its governance after vice-chancellor Wendy Purcell was placed on leave.[14]

Judith Petts CBE was appointed the University of Plymouth's vice-chancellor and chief executive in February 2016. She joined Plymouth from the University of Southampton, where she had been pro-vice-chancellor research and enterprise and previously the inaugural dean of the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences (2010–2013).

The university was selected by the Royal Statistical Society in October 2008 to be the home of its Centre for Statistical Education.[15] It also runs courses in maritime business, marine engineering, marine biology,[16] and Earth, ocean and environmental sciences.

In 2010, students from the university occupied a room in the main campus to protest against rising tuition fees and cuts to courses.[17]

2020 – present


Babbage Building renovation

Babbage Building (pre-renovations)

In 2021 work began to completely renovate the interior and exterior of the Babbage Building. The renovations will add an extra 10,000m² worth of space to the building, and create rooftop gardens which will be open to students.[18] Renovation works also began on the Intercity Place tower down by the Plymouth railway station.[19]

The university has plans to tear down the Brunel Building which currently sits opposite Babbage and turn it into an urban park, but no timeline has been released yet.[19]


The Portland Square Building

When university status was gained in 1992, the university was based in on multiple sites. Under Vice-Chancellor Levinsky the university began a policy of centralising its campus activities in Plymouth.

The Exmouth campus Rolle College housed the Faculty of Education and relocated to the new Rolle Building in August 2008. The decision was unpopular with students and the town of Exmouth itself. There were several protest marches and a campaign to keep the campus open.[20]

The Exeter campus [Earl Richards Road North] housed the Arts and Design faculty from 1989 to 2007. Purpose-built in the 1970s to re-locate Exeter College of Art and Design from the city centre, the college became amalgamated with Polytechnic South West in 1989 and permanently relocated its facilities to Plymouth in 2007. In 2011 planning permission was granted to demolish and redevelop the Earl Richards Road North site to provide 39 dwellings with parking and landscaping.

Completed developments include Portland Square, a library extension, refurbished and new laboratory and teaching facilities in many of the campus buildings, halls of residence near the Business School and a new £16 million Peninsula Medical School headquarters at Derriford Hospital, in the north of the city.[21] A Marine Building has been constructed behind the Babbage Building to house civil engineering, coastal engineering and marine sciences.

An exception to the trend of centralising activities are the university's extensive activities in education for the health professions. In addition, many of its students are taught at further education colleges throughout Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, such as South Devon College. A building which opened in 2008 is shared between the Peninsula Medical School and the Faculty of Health and Human Sciences.

Roland Levinsky building

The Roland Levinsky Building

The Roland Levinsky Building, designed by architects Henning Larsen with Building Design Partnership, is clad with copper sheets in a seamed-cladding technique, is nine storeys high and has 13,000 square metres (140,000 sq ft) of floor space.[22] The Faculty of Arts, previously based in Exmouth and Exeter moved here in August 2007. The building contains two large lecture theatres, the Jill Craigie Cinema, used by the film students to display their films and for showing of films to the public; three performance rehearsal studios; digital media suites; and a public art gallery which displays work by local artists groups, students and famous artists.

InterCity Place


InterCity Place is an 11-storey tower building adjacent to Plymouth railway station currently undergoing renovations to turn the building into a centre for students studying medical degrees. The tower is being renovated by contractor Kier Group and is set to open in 2023.[23] The building used to be the Intercity House office block. The building is currently owned by Network Rail, but is being given to the university on a 150-year lease.[24]

During construction a fire broke out in the building resulting in the railway station and surrounding area to be evacuated, nobody was hurt from the incident.[25]

Student accommodation


University-managed or approved accommodation in the first year of study is guaranteed for all applicants who choose Plymouth as their first choice institution.[26] There are six university-managed halls: Francis Drake, Gilwell, Mary Newman, Pilgrim, Radnor and Robbins. Special accommodation arrangements can be made for students with disabilities or medical conditions.

Francis Drake


Francis Drake Hall is located on-campus at the university's main campus. It has a café, Circuit Laundry, a bicycle storage room, and post room service in the building.

In April 2021 at around 3pm, a woman set fire to the 6th floor of the accommodation building. She was later arrested for arson. One person was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.[27]

During the 2021/22 academic year, planned maintenance works were undertaken to replace external cladding on the building. Scaffolding was erected and students remained living in halls that year.[28]

Organisation and administration


Faculties and Schools


There are three faculties which each contain a number of schools:

Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business


This faculty contains the School of Art, Design and Architecture, Plymouth Business School, and the School of Society and Culture, including the Plymouth Institute of Education.

The faculty offers degrees in Anthropology, Architecture, Built environment, Business and Management, Criminology, Education, English, Game design, History, Illustration, Art history, 3D Design, Fine Art, Law, Marketing, Music, Photography, Professional Policing, Media arts, Sociology, and Theatre & Performance.

Faculty of Health


The Faculty of Health contains the Peninsula Dental School, Peninsula Medical School, School of Biomedical Sciences, School of Psychology, School of Health Professions, and School of Nursing and Midwifery. The Faculty runs degrees in Adult Nursing, Biomedical Sciences, Child Health Nursing, Dentistry, Medicine, Mental Health Nursing, Midwifery, Dietetics, Optometry, Social Work, Occupational Therapy, Podiatry, Physiotherapy and Paramedicine.

Medicine and Dentistry were first established as part of the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in 2000, which operated as a partnership between Plymouth University and the University of Exeter.[29] In January 2012 the two founding members of the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (PCMD), the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, outlined their plans to expand independently and grow the success of the now nationally recognised professional health education provider. These changes came into effect from the start of the 2013 academic year.

Faculty of Science and Engineering


This faculty contains the School of Biological and Marine Sciences, the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, and the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Subjects taught in the Schools include Biological Sciences, Marine Biology, Marine Sciences, Chemistry, Geography, Environmental Science, Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Cyber Security, Games Development, Mathematics, Data Science, Mechanical Engineering, Civil and coastal Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Robotics.[citation needed]

The university provides professional diving qualifications on a number of its courses. The university has a diving centre is located within its Marine Station facility with a team of instructors and dedicated research equipment.[30]

Coat of arms


The arms, crest, badge and supporters forming the university's coat of arms were granted on 10 April 2008, in Grant 173/189, by the College of Arms.[31]

The books represent the university's focus on learning and scholarship. The scattering of small stars, represent navigation, which has played a key role in the history of the city and the university. The scallop shells in gold, represents pilgrimage, a sign of the importance of the departure of the Pilgrim Fathers from a site near the Mayflower Steps in the Plymouth Barbican aboard the Mayflower in 1620. A Pelican and a Golden Hind support the shield and reflect both the original and later, better known, name of Sir Francis Drake's ship. The crest contains the Latin motto, "Indagate Fingite Invenite" which translates as "Explore Dream Discover" and is a quote from Mark Twain, reflecting the university's ambitions for its students and Plymouth's history of great seafarers.

The letters patent granting arms to the University of Plymouth were presented by Eric Dancer, Lord Lieutenant of Devon, in a ceremony on 27 November 2008, in the presence of Henry Paston-Bedingfeld, York Herald of the College of Arms, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Plymouth, Judge William Taylor, the Recorder of Plymouth, and Baroness Judith Wilcox.[32]

The coat of arms are rarely seen in use, other than at graduation. The university uses the "with Plymouth University" brand on stationery and signs and keeps the coat of arms exclusive. The use of the arms is therefore restricted to graduations and other formal ceremonies, degree certificates and associated materials and the exclusive use by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor.[citation needed]

Academic profile


Academic Partnerships


The Academic Partnerships network is a collaboration between the university and local colleges across the England and the world.

Plymouth is the main sponsor of Marine Academy Plymouth.[33] It is also the main sponsor of UTC Plymouth, which opened in September 2013.

Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning


In 2005 the university was awarded four HEFCE funded Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs). In addition, Plymouth was a partner in a fifth successful bid, led by Liverpool Hope University.[citation needed]

The university's CETLs are:

  • Centre for Excellence in Professional Placement Learning (CEPPL)
  • Experiential Learning in the Environmental and Natural Sciences
  • Higher Education Learning Partnerships CETL
  • Centre for Sustainable Futures (Education for Sustainable Development)
  • Learn Higher

Reputation and rankings

National rankings
Complete (2025)[34]64=
Guardian (2024)[35]69
Times / Sunday Times (2024)[36]70
Global rankings
ARWU (2023)[37]601–700
QS (2025)[38]661–670
THE (2024)[39]401–500

The University of Plymouth ranks 503rd in the CWUR World University Rankings 2017[40] In The Times and Sunday Times University League Table 2018, the University of Plymouth's world ranking was listed as joint 701st[41] and 601–650 in QS World University Rankings 2019.[42] Times Higher Education ranked Plymouth 401–500 in its World University Rankings 2017–18,[43] and ranked it 65th among 200 institutions in its World Young University Rankings 2017.[44]

The results of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework showed that, overall, Plymouth was ranked joint 66 of 128 UK institutions, rising 9 places from the previous Research Assessment Exercise in 2008.[45] Across all assessed subject areas Plymouth showed substantial evidence of 3* (internationally excellent) and 4* (world leading) research, and this was particularly evident in Clinical Medicine, Computer Sciences & Informatics, Psychology, Psychiatry & Neuroscience, and Earth Systems & Environmental Sciences, where 79–85% of research was ranked as 3* or 4*.[46]

Plymouth was the first university to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in recognition of working as a genuine social enterprise, caring for communities and protecting the planet.[citation needed]

Notable academics


Notable alumni


Students' union


University of Plymouth Students' Union, usually abbreviated "UPSU" is a non-profit making organisation. Each year, students elect the officers who will represent them for the following year. The Union offers a range of services and stages a number of events throughout the year. As well as events, the Union is the base for most of the sports teams and societies at the university.



In 2014 a clash of personalities at the top of the university led the then vice-chancellor Wendy Purcell to be suspended. Part of the dispute was over the commissioning of ceremonial chairs at a cost of £95,000 without the board's approval.[53] A linked case saw the chair of the board of governors, which had suspended Purcell, William Taylor investigated of sexual harassment of female staff.[54] Purcell was later appointed to a newly created role of president with compensation of £125,000 for loss of office and maintaining her salary of £250,000.[55][56]

See also



  1. ^ a b c "History of Higher Education in Plymouth". University of Plymouth. Archived from the original on 12 May 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  2. ^ a b Alston Kennerley (2001). "Ch. 4 Plymouth School of Navigation". The Making of the University of Plymouth. ISBN 1841020699.
  3. ^ "Annual Report and Financial Statements Year Ended 31 July 2022" (PDF). University of Plymouth. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  4. ^ "Plymouth University announces the appointment of Professor Judith Petts, CBE, as its next Vice-Chancellor". Plymouth University.
  5. ^ "Who's working in HE? – HE staff by HE provider". Higher Education Statistics Agency. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  6. ^ "Facts and figures". University of Plymouth. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  7. ^ a b c "HE student enrolments by HE provider 2014/15 to 2020/21". Higher Education Statistics Agency. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  8. ^ "Academic dress and gowning". University of Plymouth. Archived from the original on 8 September 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  9. ^ a b Tony Rees, Gerry Cullum and Steve & Karen Johnson (8 July 2007). "Portland Square Air Raid Shelter at Plymouth". Archived from the original on 7 November 2007. Retrieved 6 November 2007.
  10. ^ "Power cable kills university boss". BBC. 2 January 2007.
  11. ^ "University boss successor named". BBC. 4 January 2007.
  12. ^ "Plymouth University vice-chancellor suspended". BBC News. 2 July 2014.
  13. ^ Gallacher, Neil (5 August 2014). "Regulator calls for Plymouth University review". BBC News.
  14. ^ "Search". Times Higher Education (THE). 7 August 2014.
  15. ^ "Plymouth chosen for Prestigious Centre". University of Plymouth. 17 October 2008. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  16. ^ "Degree courses in Marine Biology". University of Plymouth. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  17. ^ "Plymouth students in fees protest". BBC News. 24 November 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2024.
  18. ^ Telford, William (6 July 2021). "Work starts to create Plymouth University engineering block". Business Live. Retrieved 19 March 2023.
  19. ^ a b "Campus masterplan: re-imagining the next generation campus". University of Plymouth. Retrieved 19 March 2023.
  20. ^ "Teaching college closure agreed". BBC News. 11 November 2005.
  21. ^ "Medical school plans new headquarters". BBC Devon. 6 January 2002.
  22. ^ "The Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University". Scott Wilson website. Archived from the original on 21 April 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2008.
  23. ^ Telford, William (18 March 2022). "Plymouth to get new multi-storey car park". PlymouthLive. Retrieved 29 March 2023.
  24. ^ Telford, William (3 September 2022). "Plymouth's 'halo of light' shines as project almost finished". PlymouthLive. Retrieved 29 March 2023.
  25. ^ Munday, David; Clark, Daniel; Edwards, Amber (9 September 2022). "Fire breaks out at tower next to Plymouth railway station". Plymouth Live. Retrieved 5 January 2024.
  26. ^ "Accommodation: residence life". Plymouth University. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  27. ^ "Woman arrested after fire at Plymouth University halls". BBC News. 26 April 2021. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  28. ^ Eve, Carl (27 June 2021). "Student halls where fire broke out to get new cladding". PlymouthLive. Retrieved 15 May 2023.
  29. ^ "Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry". Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry. Archived from the original on 12 March 2005. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  30. ^ "Marine Station". University of Plymouth. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  31. ^ "September 2008 Newsletter (No. 18) - College of Arms". Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  32. ^ "At the heart of the city and the region". Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  33. ^ "The Sponsors | Marine Academy Plymouth". Archived from the original on 15 August 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  34. ^ "Complete University Guide 2025". The Complete University Guide. 14 May 2024.
  35. ^ "Guardian University Guide 2024". The Guardian. 9 September 2023.
  36. ^ "Good University Guide 2024". The Times. 15 September 2023.
  37. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2023". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. 15 August 2023.
  38. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2025". Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd. 4 June 2024.
  39. ^ "THE World University Rankings 2024". Times Higher Education. 28 September 2023.
  40. ^ "The CWUR League Table". The Center for World University Rankings. 24 September 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  41. ^ "The Sunday Times University League Table". Times Newspapers Ltd. 24 September 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  42. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2019". Quacquarelli Symonds Limited.
  43. ^ "THE World University Rankings 2017–2018". Times Higher Education. 5 September 2017. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  44. ^ "THE Young University Rankings 2017". Times Higher Education. 29 April 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  45. ^ "REF 2014: overall table of excellence" (PDF). Times Higher Education. London. 18 December 2014.
  46. ^ "University of Plymouth". REF 2014. 18 December 2014.
  47. ^ "Firework Record goes with a Bang". BBC. 16 August 2006.
  48. ^ "Fellows". Academy of Social Sciences. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  49. ^ "Professor Richard Thompson OBE – University of Plymouth". Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  50. ^ Thompson, Andrea. "Earth Has a Hidden Plastic Problem—Scientists Are Hunting It Down". Scientific American. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  51. ^ "To Save the Oceans, Should You Give Up Glitter?". National Geographic News. 30 November 2017. Archived from the original on 25 September 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  52. ^ "Microplastic waste: This massive (tiny) threat to sea life is now in every ocean". The Independent. 13 July 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  53. ^ "Wendy Purcell 'did not seek board approval' for chairs". Times Higher Education (THE). 22 September 2014. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  54. ^ "Concerns about Plymouth University chairman predate current crisis". Times Higher Education (THE). 28 August 2014. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  55. ^ "University boss given £125k pay-off". BBC News. 6 February 2016. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  56. ^ "Wendy Purcell is still paid top salary". Times Higher Education (THE). 2 April 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2020.