Capacity building and PhD student partnership in the Marine and Maritime sectors

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Ocean and Earth Science


The oceans cover ~70% of our planet and provide food, energy, environments, and resources that sustain life. Throughout history and into the future the oceans will be the principal pathways for human migration and commerce, with ships carrying more than 90% of global trade. Ports and coasts remain magnets for human activity with more than a billion people living along the coast and almost half of the world's population resident within 150 km of the sea. The oceans provide significant resources but they also are increasingly a source of natural and human-enhanced hazards. We are the stewards of this vast ecosystem and require a pipeline of PhD scholars with a global perspective on these marine and maritime issues to ensure their sustainable development and exploitation. 3-6 month internships will be developed in both institutions to meet these strategically important needs for society; each internship underpinned by world-class facilities and excellent training environment provided by our funded Doctoral Training Programme SPITFIRE.

The UoS is a world leader in the marine and maritime sector and NMMU is emerging as a leader in South Africa in this domain. PhD partnership activity will significantly enhance the skills and research capabilities of PhD scholars from both organisations; developing a cohort of 20 graduates that will have strong links to their hosting institution and a unique global perspective. The PhD exchange activity will be developed into a sustained institutional collaboration by annual staff exchange activity including Professional Services staff and development of an ongoing joint PhD programme.

Planned Impact

Links have recently been built between PVC Leitch from NMMU and the Head of Ocean and Earth Science and the UoS leadership team including the Directorate of the SMMI. A tri-lateral Memorandum of Understanding is being drafted between NMMU, UoS and NOC under which this collaborative activity will sit. Dr Marc Rius (UoS) is currently visiting South Africa and will spend time at NMMU in July 2015 to forge new links around invasive species ecology and impact on coastal ecosystems.

If successful we will carry out bi-lateral visits in autumn 2015 to establish a range of priority areas for exchange projects between specific groups within both organisations. All staff in SMMI and SAIMI will be contacted to make them aware of the opportunities of this scheme and we will work proactively with the PhD students at both institutions to nuture the student-led proposal development that is core to the success of the programme. We will ensure that participants think more broadly than single discipline partnerships and will proactively encourage engagement with a broad set of research areas and research users across the SMMI and SAIMI stakeholders. The annual deadline will be set at the end of the year (in line with current practice at UoS) and all successful applicants will be informed early in 2016 and be required to undertake the first tranch of exchange activity in 2016. Face to face visits will be supplemented by webinar activity once the exchange activities have commenced.

Partnership activity will lead to conference presentations and publications produced jointly with stakeholders where appropriate. Depending on the nature of the exchange, the knowledge generated will directly inform policy makers via stakeholder interactions.


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Fielding S (2019) Exploring Our Oceans: Using the Global Classroom to Develop Ocean Literacy in Frontiers in Marine Science

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Holman LE (2022) Managing human-mediated range shifts: understanding spatial, temporal and genetic variation in marine non-native species. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Holman LE (2021) Animals, protists and bacteria share marine biogeographic patterns. in Nature ecology & evolution

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Mazwane S (2022) Spatial and temporal variability of Net Primary Production on the Agulhas Bank, 1998-2018 in Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography

Description Close collaborations are being developed between Southampton and Nelson Mandela University researchers and PhD students across the whole area of marine and maritime. This includes maritime law, ship science, ocean science, environmental science and sustainability. The outcome of this project is a highly skilled and well networked international cohort of postgraduates and we are well on the way to delivering on this ambition.

We have developed joint learning materials with scholars from NMU as part of our popular (4.9/5.0 feedback score) MOOC on the Futurelearn Platform ( The NMU contributions are hugely popular and showcase our joint collaborative approach to research and education with a global audience (57k + learners to date over 17 runs). NMU staff have contributed as faciliators on previous runs and we included an obiturary for Professor Maarten De Wit after his passing in 2020 (

In additional we have cemented the relationship with NMU post award completion to ensure ongoing collaborative research and doctoral training occurs. Professor Derrick Swartz will be awared an Honorary Doctorate in summer 2020 by the University of Southampton and ongoing collaborations are faciliated through the Joint Chair Professor Mike Roberts (NMU-NOC, Southampton). A pipeline of Masters students are being developed at NMU who will progress to doctoral research and build capacity in the marine and maritime sector.
Exploitation Route Collaborative work between institutions and partnership work between PhD cohorts via face to face and digitally support remote collaboration is a cornerstone of both UoS and NMU international strategies. The learning from this project has informed our strategic partnership work and feeds into future ways of working.
Sectors Environment

Description The collaboration with NMU and their contributions to our MOOC, Exploring Our Ocean has demonstrably enhanced Ocean Literacy in the region, and across the world (see publications for early impact data). Since publication we have monitored update of course material, learning benefits from learners self assessment of their understanding of ocean concepts. Learners in South Africa and the wider region are particularly engaged in ocean literacy concepts.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal

Description Futurelearn: Exploring our Ocean 
Organisation FutureLearn Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Joint education materials developed for Exploring our Ocean MOOC delivered through Futurelearn subscription of University of Southampton
Collaborator Contribution Scholars contributed video and written materials and facilitated learners online
Start Year 2016
Description Free Online Course: Exploring our Oceans 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Exploring our Oceans has reached a global audience (over 35,000 sign ups), and our learners have a wide range of backgrounds and motivations for taking the course.

The course design and FutureLearn platform ensures accessibility for all. Videos introduce key concepts at a basic level, and accompanying text expands on video content. Extended reading opportunities and links to external organisations, provide signposting for broader learning and
engagement. Links to open access papers stretch participants for deeper advanced learning.

Our postgraduate facilitators develop their public engagement skills and confidence via asynchronous discussion of emotive subjects within the community. Delivering such a course has enabled the Faculty to test new technologies and activities at scale before use with on-campus students.
Nelson Mandela University is a contributor to the course as part of a Newton grant (ESRC: ES/N013913/1 Capacity building and PhD student partnership with Nelson Mandela University in the Marine and Maritime sectors, 2015-2018). Part of the legacy of this project includes sharing learning resources and capacity building for developing online learning in South Africa. Summary of Impacts • Maintained a significant 4 year presence on a global online platform
• Boosted applications to undergraduate programmes and engaged with our incoming students during the recruitment cycle
• Promoted our research in deep sea exploration
• Built on a 4*REF2014 Impact Case Study: Exploring the Deep: Public Engagement with Deep Ocean Research and provided clear metrics on reach and impact of learner experience.
• Developed our graduate students' skills in communication, impact and engagement
• Delivered our Newton funded project goals to transform marine postgraduate education in South Africa in partnership with Nelson Mandela University,
• Helped to build our international partnerships worldwide
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017,2018
Description Life Scientific BBC Radio 4 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with Jim Al-Khalili discussing all elements of current and past funding and impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018