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Investing in the West End – the University of Glasgow's new £1b campus development

The University of Glasgow’s new campus development and what it holds for the future of the West End.

Recently the University of Glasgow celebrated its 568th birthday. On that timescale our main campus at Gilmorehill, built in 1860, is a comparatively new addition, though it’s fair to say that we’ve had a big impact on the development of Glasgow’s West End, alongside other landmarks like the BBC building and the Western Infirmary Hospital.

The land the hospital stood on was originally owned by the University and was sold to the hospital board in 1870. Our re-acquisition of this land, following the hospital’s recent closure, marks the start of a new chapter for the West End. Our policy now, as we invest over £1b into a new campus development project over the next eight years, is that we continue to shape the City of Glasgow’s ongoing development.

Starting with the completion of an energy efficient district heating scheme in 2016, which cut our carbon emissions by 5000 tonnes a year, the next major milestone of the project will be the completion of the James McCune Smith Learning Hub opening for use towards the end of the 2019-20 academic session.

The project’s first phase (2017-2021) also includes a £34m refurbishment of the A-listed art modern Joseph Black Building, the building of a £113m Research Hub to support knowledge exchange and public engagement, and a £70m infrastructure investment to connect new buildings and create new civic spaces.

Part of our expansion has to do with growth. The University has already grown by 30% over the last five years, and we’re expecting another 10 – 15% increase over the timeframe of this expansion. But these developments are about more than just adding capacity.

University of GlasgowEach of these new buildings will make a big difference to the way we work and operate. For example, the new Research Hub will be our first research building not ‘owned’ by a single discipline. Instead it will feature staff from all of our Colleges – from cultural and creative industries to engineering and medicine - and the building’s common areas have been purpose-designed as interactive spaces to support knowledge exchange.

This has caused a huge amount of discussion, as you can imagine, but it reflects the cross-disciplinary reality of global issues like access to fresh water, which presents challenges not only for engineering but also for the social sciences.

We have also worked closely with Glasgow City Council and continue to do so to ensure this development becomes part of the city. All of these buildings will also be community-facing, with publicly accessible ground floors to encourage people to interact and engage with our work, and at the heart of the developments will be a new public square, providing a new major pedestrian artery through the West End.

This is important to us because while Glasgow has one of the most educated workforces in the UK, most of the high value jobs in the city aren’t occupied by Glaswegians. So a driving factor for us in planning this expansion has been how we can work with the City Government to change that.

It’s certainly not for lack of assets. As well as having one of the world’s top universities and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital on its doorstep, the West End can also lay claim to the biggest collection of museums in the UK outside of South Kensington, and one of the world’s top 10 conference venues.

To take advantage of those assets, Phase 2 of our development will include the creation of the Glasgow Waterfront Innovation District through a cross-city partnership with GCC, Scottish Enterprise and other stakeholders anchored by world-class precision medicine and imaging facilities at the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus and new innovation space to be created on the former Western Infirmary site.

One of our key long term goals through all of this development, is to help bring employment opportunities back to Glasgow’s West End. In 1913, more than a third of the world’s shipping was built on the Clyde, but those days are long past.

It’s true that industrial decline has affected many cities around the world. However, we’re now seeing cities in the U.S. like Pittsburgh that suffered industrial decline rebound through the growth of their civic health and higher education institutions, a.k.a the ‘eds and meds’ effect.

Our aim is to effect similar change for Glasgow. History shows that when the city has flourished, the University has flourished, and vice-versa. With this new campus development we hope to help set the scene for the next 500 years of Glasgow’s history.

Find out more about the University's new campus development.

Professor Neal Juster, Senior Vice-Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow - 8 Feb 2019