University of Suffolk marks one year anniversary of independence
- Credit: Gregg Brown
In an exclusive interview, vice-chancellor Richard Lister explains how the university has been quietly building for the future since the fanfare on August 1, 2016: Independence Day.
Today marks one year since the University of Suffolk graduated from its embryonic origins as University Campus Suffolk to an independent institution.
The university was set up in 2007 under a partnership between the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University of Essex and is based at Ipswich’s flagship Waterfront. It has campuses in Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and Otley.
Previously, UEA and Essex had sponsored its formation and validated qualifications. Some argued the creation of the University of Suffolk realised Cardinal Wolsey’s 500-year-old dream of establishing a university in Suffolk.
“Independence gives us a place on the starting line,” Mr Lister said. “It doesn’t do anymore than that. It gives you no guarantees. It is a very turbulent, difficult industry to be in at the moment.
“But there has been a real boost; a sense of optimism. It gives you a self-confidence that you are actually playing in that big arena, and we are now setting long-term foundations for the institution, which has been really important.
“We have developed a completely new academic strategy, we have set up a foundation board which has got a philanthropic role, we have made some managerial changes to make us much stronger in the future, investment in research (science and technology); a whole lot of background investment.
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“This is a bit fanciful, but I do look back at the immediate post-war Attlee government. A lot of the things they did were in really difficult times... but what they did was put things in place for 20, 30 years ahead. A lot of the things we have done have been under the radar, not very glamorous, but it will only be successive generations that say that was a really important thing to do.
“The similarity for me is, when the war was over, people thought immediately there would be a huge change, and I think there was a bit of that here: that with independence, it is all going to be amazing, it’s all going to be like Cambridge or Warwick or something like that. They didn’t really think that, but I think people expected a more obvious change. It was the same in post-war Britain. You had gone through something and expected to see a quick result. But there wasn’t a quick result. It was about more investment in the future.”
Mr Lister added: “I think we are really beginning to play an important role in the community now, whether it be in the Ipswich Vision, or the Upper Orwell Crossing, or seen as honest brokers in making things happen.
“I think we are seen as the stewards of the community.”
He reiterated the university’s pledge to enrol between 6,500 and 7,000 students by 2020, up from 4,500 currently.
“We have got to become a bigger institution,” he said.
“We want more students from a broader geographical reach in the UK and internationally, and we want to provide a better environment for students. We are looking root and branch at how we embed proper employability, entrepreneurial skills, so that when employers say ‘universities don’t churn out the graduates that we want’, we can say ‘well, we do’, because we’re working with you.”
Embedding the new academic strategy will be the university’s top priority for the next year, Mr Lister said.
“That will see a transformational change in the teaching and learning of students.
“It will involve a range of new courses (to be announced soon), but also differences in everything in how we reach students.”
Meanwhile, he said there are no plans affecting existing campuses, but added: “It is not out of the question that we might look at other, more distant campuses. I don’t know about a campus in London, but a presence in London I think is possible.”
He also backed the proposals of two-year degrees, saying: “There are certainly some areas where we could trial it. It would be a more intensive experience for the students (and) also probably be cheaper for the students.”
Mr Lister also voiced concerns over Brexit. Academics and politicians have speculated at length how it could affect funding, recruitment and teaching.
He said: “It is going to be very difficult for higher education. Recruiting European students will be much more difficult and we will take a hit on that. The uncertainty is not helpful.”
Top achievements in the past 12 months
The University of Suffolk has partnered with the Maastricht School of Management (MSM), the number two Business School in the Netherlands and ranked 28 worldwide by Eduniversal, by offering an Executive MBA. The professional qualification will include two residentials in Maastricht. Making the right connections and building networks are the two of the most valuable features this qualification delivers.
Following a £5.5m refurbishment The Atrium was opened in the autumn providing specialist teaching facilities including a £3m Radiography VERT (Virtual Environment for Radiotherapy Training) suite and 3D Printers. It is also home to a dedicated Business and Innovation space, the Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre (IWIC).
Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre (IWIC)
The IWIC was launched on campus in October 2016 as a dedicated centre for business and innovation excellence. Located in the newly refurbished building, The Atrium, the Centre has a modern office environment and purpose built space, with access to facilities and expertise across the institution. The IWIC’s aim is to drive innovation across the region, fostering growth predominantly within the ICT sector, working with both entrepreneurs and businesses.
Top for working families
The University of Suffolk was listed in the top 30 in the UK of family friendly workplaces in the Top Employers for Working Families Benchmark by Working Families. This covers all aspects of workplace agility and flexibility and how employers support the work-life balance of all their staff, and particularly of parents and carers, across the organisation. The University was named alongside long established firms and organisations such as American Express, Ministry of Justice and Lloyds Banking Group.
The Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey reported that 95% of our students were in full time employment or further study six months after graduation, putting the University as one of the best performing institutions in the country.
The University hosted Suffolk’s first photography festival. Working in partnership with PhotoEast, the festival, following the theme ‘Of Time and Place’, culminated in a day of talks and activities led by some of the world’s most renowned photographers including Julian Germain, Zed Nelson and George Georgiou.
The University’s Foundation Board
The Foundation Board launched the Founding Supporter Campaign to broaden the University’s network of supporters and to demonstrate the impact philanthropic gifts can make. £19,000 was distributed to projects across the University.
Ranked 14th in UK
The University of Suffolk was recognised for its academic experience in the Times Higher Education annual Student Experience Survey 2017 by being ranked 14th in the country. Participants were asked to provide a rating based on the quality of the staff and lectures, whether the staff are helpful and interested, whether the courses are well structured, whether they have a good personal relationship with teaching staff and whether tuition was in small groups.
The first geographic based alumni group was launched in London at a reception held in the Palace of Westminster. Organised by two alumni with support from the University, the group joins the already established alumni groups for those working at Ipswich Hospital and those who are working in the teaching profession.
Group photo taken at Palace of Westminster
Suffolk BME Business Awards
Working in partnership with the Bangladeshi Support Centre, the inaugural awards ceremony celebrated the diversity of businesses originating in the BME communities of Suffolk.
Over 140 delegates from across the county gathered at the University to discuss how best to support young people’s mental health. The Hidden Harms conference brought together some of UK’s leading experts and charities who work to support with a range of mental health issues from eating disorders, to self-harm to online sexual abuse. Organisations in attendance included Self-Harm UK, B-eat, and The Marie Collins Foundation and they joined academics from the University in presenting their research on self-harm, bereavement, young people and virtual violence and other mental health issues with the aim of improving the understanding of how to meet the needs of children and young people.
Higher Education Champions
As part of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) and The Network for East Anglian Collaborative Outreach (NEACO) the University of Suffolk has a number of Higher Education Champions (HEC) working in Suffolk’s schools and colleges. NEACO is a partnership of five universities committed to widening participation and raising aspiration into Higher education across East Anglia.
Degree and Higher Apprenticeships
The University launched the new programmes of study at the Suffolk Show. Higher and Degree Apprenticeships provide an excellent opportunity for employers to upskill their existing workforce or take on new apprentices who can grow in their company.
Offering a one of a kind space in Ipswich for innovative, creative industries, the Waterfront Studios has recently relaunched. A number of start-ups, SMEs, artists, graduates and alumni are catered for with affordable studio and desk space to work, meet, collaborate, network and grow.
Open Lecture Series
The popular series of free talks for the community saw evenings with Suffolk Business School Honorary Visiting Professor in Business Networking Julia Hobsbawm discussing ‘Being fully connected in an age of overload’ and Professor Keith Still, who has consulted on some of the world’s largest, and most challenging crowd safety projects in the world from Royal Weddings to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
European HR Excellence in Research Award
The Award from Vitae recognises the University’s long -term commitment to the career development of researchers. There are currently 98 UK institutions with the Award, more than double any other country in Europe. The Award acknowledges commitment to the support and development of research staff, research environment and for sectoral developments in this area.
The Department of Science and Technology at the University of Suffolk has forged an exciting new collaboration with the world-renowned UK Stem Cell Bank. This collaboration aims at ensuring that the University’s MSc Regenerative Medicine and BSc (Hons) Bioscience courses are informed by the highest standards in the industry and research areas relating to Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research
New Dementia Service for Suffolk
NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), in partnership with Suffolk County Council, have commissioned Sue Ryder and three partner organisations, including the University of Suffolk, to deliver the new-look dementia service in collaboration with other local organisations. Developed together with patients, carers and other stakeholders, Dementia Together aims to work across organisational boundaries so that people can access joined-up support which better meets their needs and allows them to live independently for longer.
National training programme rolled out supported by University research
A programme to train up to 15,000 frontline professionals across the UK and address the dearth of expertise in supporting child victims of online sexual abuse has been launched.
Teachers, social workers, police officers, health workers and those working in children’s charities and the criminal justice system are being encouraged to take up the training, which follows a national survey, by the University, highlighting the lack of confidence and knowledge among professionals working in the field.
The Click: Path to Protection programme, devised by the North Yorkshire-based charity Marie Collins Foundation (MCF), was launched in London with ministerial backing and the support of BT.
International Children and Childhoods Conference
Speakers, delegates and students from twenty countries congregated at the University for the two-day biennial conference.
The keynote speakers were Dr Afua Twum-Danso Imoh of the University of Sheffield and Professor Katherine Runswick-Cole of Manchester Metropolitan University both leaders in the progressive field of childhood studies.
To mark the Year of Celebration, the University joined with Coddenham-based brewery Calvors to launch Suffolk Graduate.
The specially brewed beer’s name and branding was created by James Tye of Achieve Creative, who graduated from the University’s Graphic Design programme in 2011.
Welcoming back Honorary Graduates and Fellows
The first event especially for Honorary Graduates and Fellows of the University was held in April.
The dinner saw a variety of guests including former Ipswich Town Chairman David Sheepshanks, Oscar winning writer-director Mat Kirkby, BBC Radio Suffolk’s Mark Murphy and founder of Suffolk charity FIND, Maureen Reynel. Honorary Fellow Will King delivered the keynote speech. All have been given Honorary Awards over the past ten years. The dinner was to mark the University’s Year of Celebration and it is hoped it will become an annual event.