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University of Sunderland 2018: Review of the Year

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Published on 21 December 2018

Review of the Year
Review of the Year

It has been a year of progress, awards, excitement, announcements, change and campaigning here at the University of Sunderland.

In 2018 we watched ships sail off into the sunset and welcomed new friends to the institution.

We have received national recognition for our work, made decisions that have changed lives, and applauded as thousands of our students graduated, ready to make their mark on the world.

As 2018 comes to a close, our new Vice Chancellor, Sir David Bell, who joined us this year, gives his final message of the year.

He said: “We can look back on another outstanding year for the University of Sunderland. It is an institution which is proud to be rooted here in this great city, at the same time as reaching out regionally, nationally and internationally.

“I am delighted to have become part of the University’s story in 2018, joining thousands of students and staff who, together, make this a very special place to study and work.”

Let’s take a look back at the year that was….



We began the year full of pride after one of our students wasnamed the North East Ambulance Service Student of the Year.

Amy O'Hara, 24, from Ferryhill, County Durham, was studying a two year diploma course in Paramedic Science at the University of Sunderland.

She was recognised at the NEAS’s annual Beyond the Call of Duty Awards after coming to the aid of a female patient having a mental health crisis.

Helping us wash away our post-Christmas blues was Sports and Exercise lecturer Morc Coulson who offered his advice on how to stick to our goals and not fall off the wagon within the first few months.

We were pleased to announce our membership of the Institute of Coding consortium of universities and employers. The remit of the partnership is closely linked to our mission to develop the next generation of digital talent.

While Professor Chris Bowerman from the Faculty of Technology gave a lecture on advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) - an issue which would make international headlines later on in the year.

Morc Coulson



We kicked off February announcing that one of our students had received an award from the King of Dubai.

Abedalrahman Al-Zghoul, who was studying a Master of Business Administration (Enterprise and Innovation) at the University was also recycling leftover bread to support scholarships for disadvantaged students and refugees in Jordan.

Abedalrahman received the Mohammed Bin Rashid Award for Young Business Leaders in the Community Entrepreneurship Initiative Category, for his innovative project ‘Bread for Education’.

It was during this month we also welcomed a new member of the team, Professor Lawrence Bellamy.

Professor Bellamy was appointed as Academic Dean to the Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism. He joined the University as former Deputy Provost and Associate Dean at the University of Chester and prior to that as Head of Strategy and Economics at Leeds Business School.

 And we were particularly excited when Lord David Puttnam, former Government education advisor, and Oscar winning producer of films including Chariots of Fire, The Mission, The Killing Fields and Midnight Express, launched a unique mentoring scheme with the University.

 The Labour peer selected six students to work with over an intensive six-month period. The ‘Puttnam Scholars’ programme involved the students in a series of interactive seminars in the course of which Lord Puttnam set them a project to be completed in time for a special ceremony in Sunderland in July.

Lord David Puttnam




March was a month of big news for everyone at the University.

And it didn’t come any bigger than the announcement that our bid to open a new medical school had been successful.

The Government’s Department of Health and Social Care announced that the first cohort of students will join the Sunderland School of Medicine in September 2019.

Sunderland is one of only five new medical schools, established to address the regional imbalance of medical education places across England and to widen access to ensure the profession reflects the communities it serves.

It was in March that the snow – dubbed the Beast from the East - arrived, seeing the University close its doors for an unprecedented three days. But that did not stop us working! Professor Lawrence Bellamy was making national headlines as he assessed the devastating impact of the weather on the country’s economy.

In March we celebrated the first anniversary of opening our campus in Hong Kong.

Based in the heart of Central district, Hong Kong, the campus enables students to attain a globally recognised degree from a UK university.

We also joined people around the world in celebrating International Women's Day, an international event that celebrates women's achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality.

Speaking of strong women, we were sad to announce in March that our Vice-Chancellor, Shirley Atkinson, would be leaving the University later in the summer.

After 10 years at our University, six as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and four as Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Shirley said: “It has been an enormous privilege to lead the University. With the support of dedicated, exceptional staff we have achieved significant outcomes for our students. We have grown our UK student base by over 16% in the last year and witnessed significant growth at our campuses in London and in Hong Kong.”

While the University’s work with estranged students led to it being nominated for a Guardian University Award in the Widening Access and Outreach category and a WhatUni Student Choice Award for the Best Prospective Student Engagement Campaign.

Shirley Atkinson



University of Sunderland honorary graduate and international best-selling author Terry Deary looked back on his North East roots and revealed the secret to a successful career.

It was 25 years ago that Terry first picked up his pen to produce Terrible Tudors and Awesome Egyptians, the first of what would become his famous Horrible Histories series.

The University strengthened its links with the Army, Navy and RAF when it signed the Armed Forces Covenant pledging to offer support to ex-personnel.

It is hoped the University can play a key role is helping these veterans, young and old, get back onto the career ladder.

It was in April that the University signed an international friendship agreement - or

Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) - with Edo University, Iyamho, in Nigeria.

University leaders in Sunderland say the partnership could bring in up to £2million a year to the city as Nigerian students get the opportunity to study in the region.

And there was more good news as our nursing students proved they had their finger on the pulse after picking up a prestigious prize at this year’s Student Nursing Times Awards.

The School of Nursing saw off opposition from across the UK to be named Post – registration Education Provider of the Year.

Rotten Romans book cover




Great news for the region arrived when the University revealed it had secured £5.1m to deliver its Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing project, which is set to create jobs and unlock growth in the region. 

The pioneering scheme will enable the region’s manufacturing base of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to be more productive and sustainable.

Meanwhile, a second year Politics and Sociology student at the University became one of the youngest councillors in the UK.

Twenty-year-old Jack Cunningham won the Copt Hill seat in the 3 May local elections.

We announced this month how hundreds of North East children and teenagers were set to benefit from research carried out by the University.

As part of a £60,000 scheme, the university is working with the city’s Youth Drug and Alcohol Project (YDAP) to ensure vulnerable young people are getting the best access to care in addressing their problems.





Professor Angela Smith made headlines across the world when she analysed the popularity of the TV programme Love Island.

Angela appeared on radio and in publications in many countries as a result of her commentary.

The University played host to debate overseen by an expert panel looking at the changing face of Sunderland and what more can be done to promote it as a great place to both live, work and invest.

The recent City of Culture bid highlighted that Sunderland is much more than simply an industrial centre; the cultural economy is growing and benefitting visitors and residents.

It was in June that we highlighted the Final Year Degree Shows at the University.

From giant glass stags to children’s books; evolution inspired glass work to environmental sculptures, the exhibitions highlight the array of artistic talent from final year art and design students.

As World Cup fever swept across the country, one of our sports academics, Dr Paul Davis, a Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Sport made headlines when he questioned the role of Video Assistant Referee’s (VAR) in Russia 2018.

Dr Davis’ comments followed a number of questionable decisions during England’s World Cup opener against Tunisia.

And the University was praised for its role in Sunderland becoming one of the fastest-growing digital technology sectors in the UK. Figures from the Tech Nation Report showed Sunderland to be one of the top places for job creation within the industry. The University’s ongoing investment in the city was highlighted as a key factor in driving the sector forward.

Degree Show 2018 montage


We kicked off a very busy month for the University joining the rest of the UK in saying a big happy 70th birthday to the NHS.

Over the years, the University of Sunderland has worked closely with the region’s health service, from training paramedics and nurses to this year’s announcement of a new School of Medicine.

Barely having time to blow out the candles, and we were all at the Stadium of Light for our summer Academic Awards, celebrating the success of 2,333 of our brilliant students.

Among those receiving honorary degrees were national journalist Kevin Maguire, This Morning TV doctor, Chris Steele, international fashion designer Gareth Pugh and international footballer Jill Scott.

Over an exciting five days we celebrated with our graduates and family and friends – watching with pride as they headed off to make their way in the world.

But, just as many students left – the Tall Ships arrived.

July saw the city – and the University – playing host to the Tall Ships Races 2018. A glorious few days, when Sunderland welcomed over 50 Tall Ships that had travelled from all corners of the globe to share in the celebrations. The weather was fantastic, with the sun shining every day on the beautiful vessels as they held centre stage along the riverside at our St Peter’s campus and in the Port. It was a truly breathtaking event, one of the biggest in Sunderland’s history.

It was also in July that we announced that Sir David Bell would be the next Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of The University. He would start his role later in the autumn.

And we weren’t finished there. The University was still celebrating at the end of the month after scooping a trio of national marketing awards at a ceremony dubbed the higher education’s Oscars.The University received the accolades at the HEIST Awards which recognise the most hardworking HE marketing teams in the UK.

Graduations 2018 montage




August is exam results season for many school-leavers and we were delighted to offer a fresh intake of student places at the University, through the Clearing process.

There was no break in the good news during the summer, when we announced the University will benefit from a boost for Arts and Humanities PhD students in the North East and Northern Ireland.

The investment in 335 postgraduate students studying 28 different disciplines was announced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

They will be based at one of the members of the Northern Bridge Consortium, which is made up of Sunderland, Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Queen’s University Belfast, Teesside and Ulster universities.

The Student Mobility Project saw over 200 students and staff from Sunderland spend two weeks with staff and students at our London campus this summer. This ‘cross campus’ project is creating life-changing opportunities for students, to enhance their employability. We look forward to our first group of London students spending time in the North East this coming summer.



We kicked off the new academic year by announcing Professor Scott Wilkes as the Head of the new School of Medicine.

A Professor of General Practice and Primary Care at the University and part-time GP in North Tyneside, Professor Wilkes will oversee the new School’s teaching, research and engagement with NHS partners.

September is survey season and Sunderland had some great results to celebrate. Overall student satisfaction at the University was 84% according to National Student Survey (NSS) results. Meanwhile 88% of the North East university’s students feel their experience has been valuable, which is 10% higher than the average for England.

The University of Sunderland saw record levels of participation in the NSS, with four out of every five students completing the survey and giving feedback on their satisfaction with the quality of their course, teaching excellence, support they receive and their overall experience.

The University played a role in helping train two of the country’s most promising young boxers as they prepared for their fights.

Super-lightweight Darren Surtees, 24, along with Commonwealth title holder Glenn Foot, 30, both sweated it out in the University’s pioneering heat chamber, in preparation for their bouts.

The chamber, housed in the Sciences Complex, is designed to give elite athletes a unique training experience by exposure to extreme temperatures.

Boxers Glenn Surtees and Darren Foot training at the University with David Archer



We started the month by hosting a special one-day conference: Propaganda, Revolution and Victory, as part of ongoing celebrations to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War.

For many sci-fi buffs, October will be best remembered for the arrival of the first female Doctor Who.

And the arrival did not escape the notice of our resident Doctor Who expert,John Paul Green.The career of the Timelord and his (and now her) various incarnations has shaped the academic’s career path.

Four decades of fascination with the time-travelling hero has resulted in academic papers, public lectures, three appearances as an extra in the BBC programme, and is an integral topic for the Film, Media and Culture lecturer’s science fiction module at the University of Sunderland.

On a more serious note, the University backed international calls for the release of its former visiting Professor of Photography from a Bangladeshi jail.

Shahidul Alam, an internationally-renowned Bangladeshi photographer, photojournalist, activist, and friend of the University had been in police custody since August. He was arrested following an interview he gave to Al Jazeera in which he spoke about the government following issues raised during the then-ongoing student protests in Dhaka.

Shahidul would later be released on bail following an international outcry.

Later in the month we were celebrating again after scooping ‘Digital Campaign of the Year’ at the 2018 North East Marketing Awards.

Free Shahidul Alam event




With summer graduations a distant memory, November’s winter Academic Awards brought some much-needed warmth to a chilly Wearside.

New Vice Chancellor, Sir David Bell, was on hand to oversee the three-day proceedings, where more than 2,000 students, family and friends gathered at the Stadium of Light.

Lecturer Holly Sterling, who studied Illustration and Design at the University between 2006-2009, was named Alumni Achiever of the Year in recognition of her work on 13 children’s books.

With Brexit continuing to dominate the news agenda, University academics Dr Peter Hayes – a staunch remainer – and Dr Kevin Yuill – a Brexit champion – went head-to-head during a special debate on the topic watched on by students and members of the public.

The University also welcomed a new Professor of Investigative Practice when Gary Shaw arrived through the doors.

During the course of his career, Gary revolutionised techniques used by detectives when interviewing suspects accused of heinous and high profile crimes.

His methods have changed the face of UK policing and now he is bringing his wealth of experience to the University.

Vice Chancellor Sir David Bell speaking at the graduations




Festive fever arrived with the Vice Chancellor hosting the annual carol service at Sunderland minster led by the University’s Chaplain, Reverend Chris Howson.

Despite the approaching holiday season, the news did not stop with the University making regional and national headlines. Our paramedics and nurses featured on ITV Tyne Tees’ evening programme, showcasing the incredible facilities on offer here.

While national BBC journalists arrived at AMAP to interview engineering students on the Brexit situation.

We did manage to enjoy some lighthearted fun when the University’s digital team created a special Christmas message video – which you can watch here

Our international students, many spending their first Christmas in Sunderland, featured in Vibe magazine as they looked forward to Wearside festivities and welcoming in 2019 in a new country.

International students in Christmas hats