Maritime Studies Centre, BRNC Dartmouth

Delivering Educational Courses to the Royal Navy 

The University of Lincoln’s Maritime Studies Centre is an integral part of Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth and is responsible for delivering educational courses and programmes across a range of maritime studies to Royal Navy officers embarking on their professional careers. The Centre is a key element of the University’s contribution to Project Selborne as part of the Team Fisher partnership delivering and modernising education and training for the Royal Navy.

Our Team

The Maritime Studies Centre has a team of 12 permanent academic staff, and a number of part-time Associate Lecturers, overseen by the Director of Studies. Staff deliver a range of multi-disciplinary maritime-related subjects across Arts and Sciences including: Strategic Studies; Naval Warfare and History; Ship Technology; Oceanography and Meteorology; Sensors, Satellites and Telecommunications; and Navigation.

The Maritime Studies Centre team photo

The education is a vital and integrated component of the wider Naval and Leadership training delivered by Britannia Royal Naval College and ensures that officers gain a sound grounding in their profession in both practical and conceptual terms. The education ranges from Level 3 to Level 6, whether that is vital information being passed on to new entry officers undergoing Phase 1 Initial Naval Training (INT), more in-depth Phase 2 professional training leading to degree, or wider Phase 3 development training such as the Naval Analysis Course undertaken before attending the Staff College. The Centre also delivers a dedicated degree programme to officers from the Saudi Arabian Navy and Coastguard.

The formal degree programmes the Centre delivers are as follows:

FdSc Maritime Studies

BSc Maritime and Defence Studies


Why Selborne? The story of the original project to transform Naval Education by Dr Jane Harrold, Senior Lecturer at the Maritime Studies Centre, BRNC Dartmouth

Fisher’s Forgotten Legacy

The Selborne Scheme: A Revolution in Naval Education*

Admiral Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher is most commonly associated with overseeing the development of the Dreadnought battleship. Regarded as perhaps the ultimate warship of its time the Dreadnought seemed to launch a new era in battleship design, which anyone who aspired to command the sea would have to emulate and refine. However, when war did break out between Britain and Germany in 1914 the two great fleets were more inclined to avoid direct confrontation of these Leviathans, regarded as far too valuable an asset to risk in the face of enemy fire. By the end of the conflict the age of the battleship itself was on the verge of eclipse. Come the Second World War the battleship soon found itself outclassed, almost defenceless against the new forms of naval warfare that had developed since the last global conflict both beneath and above the sea’s surface; it was the aircraft carrier that was to emerge from the war as the capital ship of a fleet

If the Dreadnought heralded the beginning of the end of the battleship then Fisher’s other great legacy to the Royal Navy is still a most tangible part of the modern service. The Selborne Scheme of naval education was but one component of the reforms he was to institute during his time as Second Sea Lord, although it is after the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Selborne, that the scheme is generally known. To describe it as a revolution is not mere hyperbole.  It offered boys destined to become Naval Officers a very modern education, in particular through its inclusion of theoretical and practical engineering. With some modification, it was to form the basis of training and education at Dartmouth for over forty years – an unprecedented period of continuity in the history of the College.  Inevitably Fisher and Selborne’s plans met with opposition when first published, on Christmas Day 1902, particularly from older and more conservative officers, active and retired, whose principal objection focused on the introduction of engineering instruction for executive as well as engineering officers and the apparent ‘interchangeability’ between the two branches.  Indeed, some of the original objectives of the scheme, such as the full inclusion of Royal Marine and Engineering officers into a common entry and training, failed to materialise fully.  Nevertheless, the Selborne-Fisher Scheme succeeded in establishing Dartmouth as a respectable and unique form of public school, which was to survive in amended form through the upheavals of two world wars, until finally succumbing to the demands of social equality when the thirteen-year-old entry was abolished by the post-war Labour government in 1948.

At the turn of the twentieth century the soundness and efficiency of the Royal Navy was of grave concern.  Since the Battle of Trafalgar it had enjoyed almost unchallenged command of the sea, and indeed remained an impressive looking force.  Such superiority had however bred complacency.  While other newer navies had been quick to assimilate advances in technology the Royal Navy remained psychologically attached to a world in which sails and masts, rather than steam and engines, were the life force of a navy.  The system onboard HMS Britannia reflected this illusion with its emphasis on traditional seamanship.  The introduction of steam propulsion in the latter half of the nineteenth century had led to the rise of a new breed of naval officer; the engineer.  However, coming generally from a lower social class, and engaged in a technical and often dirty occupation the engineer was denied the same status and opportunities as the executive officer, who had received his education on board Britannia.  As a result a sharp class divide was distinguishable through the officer corps, while for the vast majority of executive or deck officers, the workings of the engine room remained a mystery.  To resolve these problems a new system of entry and education would be necessary in which all officers would receive instruction in engineering allowing those from all social backgrounds to become specialist engineers.  Similarly, Royal Marine Officers were found to be largely idle when embarked on ships, lacking any knowledge of the workings of the ship itself, which was a waste of valuable human resources. In addition and perhaps more importantly, a system had to be devised which would provide a wider pool of young officers for the growing number of RN ships, particularly the smaller more modern vessels such as torpedo boats and submarines.

The institution of such a scheme would inevitably require an individual of tremendous energy and vision; this man was to be Admiral Sir John Fisher, who would be responsible during his career in the Admiralty for a series of major reforms, including the introduction of the all-big-gun battleship and the regrouping of fleets on a modern strategic basis.  Before his appointment as Second Sea Lord, Fisher had been Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean.  It was in this post that he was to observe many of the deficiencies of the service, which he was to attempt to remedy later in his career. 

Subsequently Selborne invited Fisher to take up the position of Second Sea Lord, the member of the Admiralty Board with responsibility for personnel.  Such was Fisher’s concern for naval training and education that he was willing to take up the post, which would normally have been held by a rear admiral, whereas Fisher was a full admiral.  On February 25th 1902, before leaving his post in the Mediterranean, Fisher outlined his ideas in a paper: 

 ‘…The general good and efficiency of the Navy renders it imperative that the entry of Engineer Students at present arranged should be gradually stopped and the entry of Naval Cadets gradually increased in like proportion, and that instruction from the moment of entry into the College at Dartmouth should in large measure, at least half the time, devoted to engineering.  That like Gunnery, Torpedo and Navigating as at present, there should be Engineer Officers, Sub-Lieutenants, Lieutenants and Commanders, and going on perhaps to the Captain’s List and the Flag List, but the pay in view of greater responsibilities (the extra pay, that is) should be such as would perhaps induce officers to prefer remaining in the Engineer Class.’1         

Fisher’s ideas were by no means original.  The defence writer and former Royal Marine Sir John Colomb, for example, had been advocating the idea of a common entry for twenty years, and some aspects of the proposed instruction at Dartmouth had been elaborated in an article in National Review, in June 1900, by Rear Admiral C. C. Penrose Fitzgerald.  Fisher also sought inspiration and advice from such authorities as Sir Julian Corbett and Captain Christopher Cradock.  Consequently Fisher is occasionally criticised for stealing other people’s ideas, while amassing the credit for himself, he was certainly adept at surrounding himself with the most able of men.  This was particularly evident in the brilliant appointment of J. A. Ewing, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cambridge University, to the newly established post of Director of Naval Education.

The Admiralty scheme for the entry and training of officer cadets, warrant officers, petty officers and men, was published on December 25th 1902.  It commenced with the recognition that the ‘Navy has reached a critical period in its development – a development which, steady and comparatively slow for the greater part of the last century, has now for fifteen years proceeded with startling rapidity.’  During this period steam had replaced sail, wood had been superseded by iron then steel, and cannon replaced by quick-firing guns.  The number of officers and men in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines had more than doubled from 60,000 to over 120,000, while a number of foreign navies were now more powerful than the British Navy had been fifteen years ago, although the Royal Navy remained supreme. 

In particular it was necessary to recognise, with the demise of masts and yards, the growing importance of engineering.  Engineering, practical and theoretical, was to be of greater importance to all naval officers.  Moreover executive, engineer and Royal Marine officers would all receive the same training and education until they reached the rank of sub-lieutenant, at the age of about twenty, when they could select their preferred branch, based upon their original preferences as stated on entry.  All officer cadets would therefore join under the same conditions. 

Entry under the new scheme was to be by nomination following a suitability interview, a qualifying examination and a medical.  It was intended to end the competitive nature of the Britannia exam, which had encouraged cramming and subsequently mental exhaustion among cadets.  The examination which followed the approval of the First Sea Lord as to the boy’s suitability, aimed to ensure a level of academic ability.  The objective was to allow open competition, enabling the best possible candidates to come forward, providing their parents could afford the fees.  For Dartmouth was a public school, run by the Navy; its pupils were not yet in the Navy, but the sole purpose of the school was to provide the Navy with specially educated boys who would become the officers of the future.  Fisher himself had reservations about charging fees for a naval education (a sum of £75 per annum plus cost of uniform and other kit and equipment), restricting the pool of ‘future Nelsons,’ but the system was in fact designed to catch a particular type of boy from a particular middle to upper class background.  The aim to abolish the class distinction between the executive and engineering branches should perhaps be more accurately interpreted as attempting to draw both from the same class, rather than extending entry to the lower classes.

Having successfully passed the selection procedure cadets would spend four years at the Royal Naval College.  During this time, as Professor Ewing explained in 1906, they would ‘receive a general education on modern lines which should include an exceptionally large element of practical science and engineering.’2  The curriculum which, according to Ewing, would resemble that of ‘a good public school,’ covered instruction in ‘mathematics, heat, electricity; in the science and practice of engineering; in French [plus German for the more able], English composition and literature; in history, both general and naval; in geography, navigation and the elements of seamanship; and in religious knowledge.’  A good deal of time would also be spent in workshops, including instruction in ‘carpentering and pattern making, in turning, moulding and casting, in blacksmithing and coppersmithing, and in mechanical drawing.’  The result was to provide ‘an education for the boy who is to become a man of action, not a philosopher.’3

Inevitably, given the extent of the reforms being proposed, Fisher and Selborne were met with criticism and opposition for their scheme.  Objections centred round the common training of executive and engineer officers.  Much of the detractor’s opposition seems to have been based on sheer snobbery, not wishing to ‘taint the glory of the executive officer with the oil, grime, and heat of the engine-room.’4  Indeed the Times journalist James Thursfield, wrote to Fisher telling him of a conversation with Lord Spencer who had been approached by ‘a distinguished person’ to lead an attack on the scheme.  When Lord Spencer refused to do so, the anonymous ‘great man’ replied; ‘Are you prepared to defend our officers going down in the coal hole?5  But underlying this there was a genuine concern about ‘interchangeablity’ between the branches reducing the degree of specialist knowledge on board ship.  The intention, however, was merely to give deck officers sufficient engineering and scientific knowledge to understand the workings of their ships and weapons systems, while providing engineers (and Marines) with an appreciation of the art of seamanship.  

Not all contemporary opinion was against the Fisher-Selborne scheme.  The Prince of Wales, a former Britannia cadet, wrote to Fisher:

‘I call it a grand scheme and wish it every success.  No doubt it will be severely criticised by the old ones, who are too conservative for our modern days… I am certain the Navy will greatly benefit by having your Engineer and Marine officers drawn from the same class as your Executive officers…’ 6

Even Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, with whom Fisher was later to fall out over his war plans, described the scheme as ‘a brilliant and statesmanlike effort to grapple with a problem upon the sound settlement of which depends the future efficiency of the British Navy.’ 7

That the scheme fought for by Fisher and Selborne lasted for almost half a century is a mark of the forethought that had contributed to a unique system of naval education.  Arguably many of its original objectives failed to transpire; engineers were to remain at a disadvantage and after 1921 were not generally to receive a Dartmouth education, while an increasing number of officers of all branches were to enter the service via the Special Entry at the age of eighteen, too old to be properly moulded for life at sea.  Nevertheless Dartmouth had been successfully established as a public school for naval officers, in which it was possible to combine the staff and curriculum for what was recognised as a good general education with the unique professional training the Navy required. 



* Based on an article first published in Naval Review, February 2005. See also Harrold J & Porter R (2005): Britannia Royal Naval College 1905-2005: A Century of Officer Training at Dartmouth.  Richard Webb, Dartmouth.


1 Mackay R. F. 1973 – Fisher of Kilverstone.   Clarendon Press, Oxford. p.267)

2 Kemp P.K. (ed.) 1964 – The Papers of Admiral Sir John Fisher Volume 2.  Spottiswood,

  Ballantyne & Co., London.  p.174

3 Ibid. p.179-180

4 Op. sit. Mackay 1973, p.277

5 Marder A. J. 1953 – Fear God and Dread Nought – The Correspondence of Admiral of

   The Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone.  Jonathan Cape, London p.268

6 Ibid. p.266-7

7 Fisher, Admiral of the Fleet Lord J. A. 1919 – Records.  Hodder & Stoughton, London. p.167

Join the Team

The Maritime Studies Centre is home to several full-time academic staff but also associate lecturer staff who have the flexibility of smaller part-time or termly contracts. We are always looking for opportunities to deliver the most contemporary materials to students through continuous curriculum development and through guest lectures from subject matter experts.

We are looking to engage with individuals who would like to share their knowledge, experience, or research. Periodically, we have teaching opportunities for guest or associate lecturers across the variety of subjects delivered. The University of Lincoln prides itself in the support it can offer to employees who wish to develop their skills.      

If you would like to discuss how you could be involved with the activities taking place at BRNC, please get in touch.

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We offer a range of exciting career opportunities, with competitive salaries, generous benefits packages, training and development programmes, and health and wellbeing support, giving you the chance to reach your full potential.

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My transition from working in the maritime civilian and military environment to the academic world with the University of Lincoln has been seamless, due in large part to the extensive continued professional development opportunities offered by Lincoln.

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