WORK has begun on a new £35.6m building at a Hampshire university but the expenditure has been criticised in the light of cuts and job losses.

The “eagerly anticipated” teaching and learning building at Southampton University’s Highfield campus is now under construction.

Set to open in 2019 the centre has been billed as a “focal point” for its 24,000 students and the “flagship resource” for all the university’s faculties.

But critics claim it’s “not what students want.”

With more than 6,000 square metres of flexible space for group learning and independent study it will feature a 250-seat lecture theatre, seminar rooms, a computer suite and a ground floor cafe.

However the start of the project comes just days after the university announced the latest in a round of job losses, and months after its vice chancellor was slammed for taking a £344k salary and advertising for a chauffeur for senior staff.

Hundreds of lecturers have also been out on strike in a row over changes to pensions.

Now unions have criticised the new-building saying the university is “out of touch” with its students needs.

A spokesperson for University and College Union said: “Students surveyed by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) said if universities wanted to save money they should cut spending on “buildings” and “sports and social facilities”.

When asked what should not be cut, their top answers were “learning facilities”, “teaching hours”, “student support services” and “academic support”.

But the university’s chief operating officer said the organisation is “actively investing in high-quality teaching, learning and research space” and “continually working to enhance the student experience.”

Ian Dunn said: “In recent years there has been an increased demand for independent study space, where students can learn individually or in small groups,” he continues. “Our new purpose-built centre for teaching and learning responds directly to this demand and has been designed to meet the needs of the 21st century student.”

A university spokesperson added: “The funding for this building is completely unrelated to staff costs or budgets.

“The HEPI report is interesting and within it, just below the table where it lists the areas students would most/least prefer their university to save money, there is a line that says –

“One potential contradiction thrown up by these results is that in order to improve on learning facilities (top priority), a university might reasonably wish to build a new building (lowest priority). This conundrum could be explained by students not wanting to live and study on a building site, although there is clearly a contribution that completed new buildings can make to improving the environment and image of the university and its community, as well as improving learning facilities housed within them.

“We would agree with this line and this certainly applies to “Our new building which will be totally student focused and will provide new/contemporary learning facilities for students which they’ve continued to tell us through various surveys and feedback that they want for us to focus on.”

The contract has gone to BAM Construction, who previously built the University’s EEE building on University Road and its new Life Sciences building which opened in 2011.

The university is also preparing to open its £25m Centre for Cancer Immunology at Southampton general hospital - which they say has been made possible by its “largest ever fund-raising campaign.”

2019 will see the completion of a £26m National Infrastructure Laboratory at the university’s Boldrewood Innovation Campus.