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Southampton Seeks To End UK ‘Photonics Skills Shortage’

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The University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) has been awarded £200,000 funding to develop what the university describes as 'much-needed skills' for the photonics industry. The ORC said it plans to link with universities and industry partners to develop people and skills associated with the fabrication of photonics devices.

Funding for the new initiatives comes from the UK’s Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund program, intended to support the government’s industrial strategy through curriculum development.

The ORC said the cash will enable it to “focus on addressing the skills shortage in the highly-buoyant field of photonics. In particular, the Centre will link with other universities and partners from industry to develop the skill sets 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 other UK universities – Surrey, Cardiff, Manchester and University College London, as well as key partners and investors including Rockley Photonics, Oclaro Technology, Huawei UK, Optocap and the National Physical Laboratory.

The ORC will also 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 Master’s-level courses at each of the partner universities, centred on Southampton’s world-class clean room facilities.

Device fabrication

A key aspect of the program, device fabrication coursework, will enable other universities across the UK to introduce device fabrication into their curricula, without the need to invest significant sums required to establish fabrication facilities at each institution. Consequently, students will be able to engage in the full life cycle of device development by carrying out the modeling, 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 facilities in Southampton to advance their own skills, combined with added support from major industry partners."

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.


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