DURING the Easter break, thousands of university students will be working hard to save up some money for next term.
But only a few will be paid to go to sea with the Royal Navy.
Dozens of students from all over the UK converged on Portsmouth yesterday for one of the largest squadron exercises in 25 years.
Eleven P2000 patrol ships zipped around the Solent just yards from each other in a series of manoeuvres watched by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.
The ships are unique to the Royal Navy in that they are manned by undergraduates but commanded by a Royal Navy officer.
The students come from University Royal Navy Units (URNUs) based at campuses the length and breadth of the UK.
Second-year biochemistry student Abrar Nazir, 19, serves on HMS Archer – Univerity of Aberdeen’s URNU vessel – which took two weeks to sail to Portsmouth.
He said: ‘Taking part in a massive exercise like this is a fantastic opportunity. How many of my mates at uni will be able to say they took part in a big naval exercise with the First Sea Lord during the Easter holidays?’
Only a few of the students who apply to join an URNU are selected by the navy. They are paid £38 a day to go to sea during breaks in the academic year.
Around 750 students currently serve in the squadron. Typically, around 40 per cent will go on to join the navy after their studies.
But Commander David Wilson, Commander of First Patrol Boat Squadron, said URNUs are about more than recruitment – they help spread the navy’s message too.
He said: ‘These young people are some of the brightest minds in the country. I see them as our future leaders – not just in the navy but in the wider world.
‘What we do benefits students in their development and teaches them things like leadership skills.
‘In turn, it benefits the navy because we give influential youngsters a greater appreciation about what we do.
‘Most people don’t really see what the navy does which is a problem. As an island nation, it’s important we have people in society that know about how important the navy is.’