Cardiff University students and staff have returned for full face to face teaching and large scale lectures in new multi million pound buildings seen for the first time inside since re-opening.
The £39m Abacws building, which combines the School of Computer Science and Informatics and the School of Mathematics into one world-leading facility, and the £50m Centre for Student Life have been purpose built with state of the art facilities.
Students and staff say they are very happy to be back together in the new buildings and learning remotely was not ideal.
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The 10,000sqm six storey Abacws building on Senghennydd Road next to Cathays railway station, was previously a site used as a university car park.
It has a 250-seater lecture theatre, complete with balconies for students who feel uneasy joining large groups, open plan work spaces and computer labs designed for group and individual working. There is an IT workshop, a simulated trading room for financial mathematics and a cyber security lab for teaching and research.
Although they cannot provide all the power needed there are electricity generating solar panels on the roof.
The Centre for Student Life on Park Place houses the university’s largest lecture hall with space for 550 people and is the home of student support services, including financial, mental health and careers. There is a chaplaincy and confidential consulting rooms.
It’s open plan design centres on a wide staircase atrium with work spaces and large windows looking out onto the countryside from one side and the historic university buildings and city on the other. Students said they like the building and also use its open plan spaces to work in, but there were objections when it was first put before planners.
Cardiff Council agreed permission for the 140m long building in 2016 after a number of official bodies and local councillors opposed the scheme. Network Rail, the Civic Society and Victorian Society all objected. Conservative councillor Lyn Hudson said at the time the building would be “incongruous” to that part of the city and Labour councillor Sarah Merry also objected.
Planning committee chairman Michael Michael told them: “I think in a few years when this is built, concerns will be hopefully alleviated”.
Jonathan Gillard, deputy head of the School of Maths said he was delighted to be back giving full lectures for the first time in two years. The university started the academic year with lectures and face to face teaching but that was halted when Omicron hit and has just resumed this week.
“The Abacws building is absolutely fabulous,” he said, “It has lots of spaces for ad hoc meetings.
“Students are working, meeting and talking with each other and that’s pleasing to see after a bruising two years with Covid. They are taking advantage of the building and getting to know each other.
“The risk of going online is that there’s a danger of students being isolated. Having a place to go to and a sense of belonging must not be be under valued, particularly as we exit the pandemic.
“I am starting full lectures again. I am really excited but also nervous after being out of lecture theatres for two years.
“When you lecture live you consciously and unconsciously read students’ body language. That tells you whether you are going to fast or too slow. That’s not possible with a computer lecture.
“I am hoping to build a richer relationship with my students now.You can’t replicate human contact online. It’s about shared experience, that’s why people go to the gym or cinema or rugby together. It helps learning and is getting away from isolation.
“Some of our students missed A levels and have been missing out on student life.”
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Dr Kathryn Jones, senior lecturer in computer science and informatics said what she most likes about the new building is seeing students working together again.
“It’s been tough for them stuck in their little rooms for so long and that has had mental health implications.
“Full lectures started in the autumn but then stopped when Omicron started. I am a people person and prefer being around people.I am glad to be back and it feels safe.”
School manager for maths Beatrice Allen said the building is about people being together:
“A university is a community not a title or collection of academics and students in different rooms.”
Behind the building the new Centre for Student life is a hub for students from across the university who meet, study attend lectures and get support there.
International student Asianna Sample has just arrived from New York to study computer science and Welsh. She was in the building to find out about being a student here and liked that everything was in one place designed to make you want to stop and look around.
“I really like the building and the lay out. It takes advantage of bringing in the light. It reminds me of the Guggenheim Museum in New York Where I’m from,” she said.
Alice Wright third year international relations student comes to the CSL each day to work with friends.
“It is nice because in the library you have to keep quiet but here you can talk quietly. We are on the same course and like to work together. It’s helpful to be able to chat while you work together.
“It is 100% better to be back. We could go to the library last year but now we can come in to all the buildings together. It’s much better.”
Third year international relations and politics student Adam Rocca agreed: “I come every day and I do enjoy coming in to this building. It’s nice because there are people here and we help each other. It makes me work. If I was at home alone I’d be playing Wordle.
“It’s nicer to work here than in the library and it’s nice to come back. It feels more normal and it’s easier to work together.”
James Kelly, who graduated with a masters in civil engineering from Cardiff in 2017 was construction manager for ISG which constructed the Abacws building.
He said he was glad to see students and staff together again to see the building work in action.
“I wanted collaborative spaces and a warm feeling. It was a proud moment to see the building open and to feel you had contributed.”
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