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The University of Plymouth is the largest university in the southwest of England, with over 30,000 students and is the fifth largest UK university based on student population. (Larger universities are Open, London, Manchester, and Manchester Metropolitan in order of largest to smallest). It has almost 3,000 staff (one of the largest employers in the southwest).
Plymouth is a modern university that has undergone a great deal of development, including several new buildings. On the basis of the results of the 2008 RAE Plymouth has leapt 15 places to join the top 50 universities, showing the greatest improvement in the UK in research performance since the last RAE, in 2001. The university jumped 33 places in The Guardian's national university league tables published in May 2006, from 73rd place in 2005 to 40th place in 2006. It is settled at 35th place in the 2007 publication; The Times table, which unlike The Guardian takes research performance into account, places it 55th and bills it as one of the top two modern universities in the UK. The Guardian describes the University as "forward thinking", as well as placing Plymouth in the "top 20" for ten subjects including social work (5th), architecture, fine art and drama. In conjunction with the current restructuring, the university's aim is to become the enterprise university, pivotal in a city acknowledged as the enterprise capital of the south west.
Professor Roland Levinsky was the University's vice-chancellor (VC) up until his death on 1 January 2007, when he walked into live electrical cables brought down during a storm. He was temporarily replaced by Professor Mark Cleary (now VC of the University of Bradford), and then by Professor Steve Newstead. Professor Wendy Purcell became VC on 1 December 2007.
The university was originally a Polytechnic College, with its constituent bodies being Plymouth Polytechnic, Rolle College, and Seale-Hayne College. It was renamed (unpopularly) Polytechnic South West in 1989 and remained as this until gaining university status in 1992 along with the other polytechnics. The new university absorbed the Plymouth School of Maritime Studies and Tavistock College.
Under then Vice-Chancellor Roland Levinsky, the university began a policy of centralising its campus activities in Plymouth. The Faculty of Arts based in Exeter moved to the new Roland Levinsky arts building in August 2007, bringing subjects including Fine Art, History of Art, Photography and 3-D Design to Plymouth. Theatre & Performance, based in Exmouth also moved at this time.
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.
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 Dartington College of Arts. A new building which opened in 2008 is shared between the Peninsula Medical School and the Faculty of Health and Social Work, highlighting some movement towards Plymouth.
Recently 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, in the north of the city.
Jointly with the University of Exeter and the National Health Service in the region, the University runs the recently founded Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry. A new £13 million building on the University of Plymouth's main campus provides teaching rooms, office space, a clinical skills laboratory and research facilities for the Plymouth-based activities of the School, along with the Faculty of Health and Social work.