Bristol Digital Futures Institute: research through a different lens

This week, we were delighted to announce the award of over £100 million in grant funding for our new Digital Futures Institute, thanks to an initial £29 million from UKRI’s Research Partnership Investment Fund and a further £71 million in match funding from some 27 companies.

The Bristol Digital Futures Institute is a great opportunity for us – and for all universities – to look at research and innovation through a different lens. The late-20th-century model involves academia working with business and technology partners on tech-driven research projects; at Bristol, and indeed elsewhere, we have believed for some time that the rapid rise and pervasiveness of digital technologies has created challenges in terms of their impact and their disruptive nature in many areas of society.

A key word for this new institute is partnership. It will be jointly led by Susan Halford, a social scientist and Professor of Sociology, and Dimitra Simeonidou, an engineer and Professor of High-Performance Networks. The large number of projects (around 30) per year that we plan to initiate will bring together our researchers in science and engineering with their peers in the social sciences and in the legal, ethical and community sectors, to create programmes on a scale that, we believe, is quite unprecedented. As you’ll see from the formidable list of local partners who have pledged support – financial, logistical, advisory – the scale is matched by the range of sectors they represent.

There will, of course, be challenges. Some of our partners have never worked outside their own sector before, so there’ll be a process of learning and absorbing each other’s values, practices and metrics of success, in order to build a foundation for true collaboration and partnership. But it’s this confluence of different disciplines in a common cause, rather than the technology, that will drive the institute’s work, and I am confident that it will lead to transformational impact in this research domain.

Co-creating the future

The institute’s physical location at our new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus is also highly appropriate to its mission and methodology. Research won’t be confined to the University lab or offices; it’ll involve people and platforms in real settings, and we will invite members of our local community, from across all socio-economic groups, to become co-creators of this exciting future.

This is what a civic university should be doing: not jealously guarding its experts and innovators, but opening its doors to the public and creating the space for two-way conversations and collaborative projects that will make a real impact on society at large

I’m tremendously excited about the prospects for this new institute and the groundswell of support that we’ve already received for it. We’ll work hard to fulfil those prospects, and I look forward to seeing them take shape – and to being surprised by the outcomes, which none of us can entirely predict at the start of this exciting journey.

 

Engendering change

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

It is six months today since I took up my role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost. I have tried to use this time in office to engender change in the institution, so I am particularly pleased to mark my first half-year with the University of Bristol Gender Equality Conference 2019 on 4 July, as one of the key priorities for me has been to make real progress on gender equality in the University.

I am also pleased to report that, following this year’s academic promotions round, in which we will be promoting 37 new Associate Professors and 45 new Professors, we will see an increase in the proportion of female professors to 28.2%. This represents an increase of 11.1% over six years. It also means that we have reached our University Strategic Plan 28% mid-term target and puts us on track to reach the 33% target by the end of the Plan.

We will be analysing the impact of this on our gender pay gap, but our 2019 Gender Pay Gap Report already showed a reducing gap at the organisational level of 13.6%. This is a 2.6% reduction in one year (and lower than the Russell Group median of 14.9%). The professorial median pay gap stands at 3.1% with the mean reducing by 0.7% to 7.5% over the past year due to the progression of female Professors.

Work to reduce the gender pay gap

In addition to this, we are working hard in other areas based on the recommendations from the publication of a study into gender employment and pay at Bristol, commissioned by the Professorial Gender Pay Gap Working Group and published in September 2018.

One of the recommendations in this report was linked to historical concerns about the undervaluing of work that tends to be disproportionately undertaken by women. I was therefore delighted that the new Academic Promotions Framework was endorsed by Senate on 10 June, as this was designed to ensure that we have a fair and effective promotions process that better recognises the full academic contribution, rewarding research, education, engagement and citizenship. The new framework for promotion to Associate Professor and Professor will be ready for the 2020/21 promotions cycle.

The framework should also facilitate better career discussions, which in turn could lead to more focused personal and professional development, and more flexible and inclusive careers for everyone. This links with another recommendation on the quality of the career support provided through such processes as staff review and development, which we will be reviewing in the coming year.

I am also heartened by changes for Pathway 3 colleagues after the review of their progressability as part of workforce planning. For Pathway 2 colleagues, we are looking at both practical support when facing the challenges of fixed-term funding and career support. We are piloting various approaches in the Medical School and doing some work with Principal Investigators to highlight the excellent work that many are already doing to support their research teams.

We are also looking to introduce more flexible working options, including job-shares, into all recruitment. Plus, we are evaluating the Returning Carers’ Scheme, which has supported nearly 50 women since 2014 to re-establish their research.

At the beginning of my term in office, I launched a new women’s mentoring scheme with significant take up (over 200 grade K and L mentees and 50 grade M mentors) from both academic and professional services staff: I look forward to hearing how this has been received in the autumn. We are also piloting an alternative to Aurora called the Female Leadership Initiative (FLi).

There is still significant work to do, including exploring ethnicity pay gaps and their intersection with gender, but I am grateful for all your support in relation to our achievements thus far, including our Athena SWAN activities. I know that together we are moving in the right direction. Thanks for all your support and please do come to the Conference on Thursday 4 July.

Bristol SU Awards 2019

By Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience).

The last week of term was an exciting mix of celebrations and events, but the real highlight for me was being a guest at the Bristol SU Awards on Thursday 13 June. The SU awards recognise individuals or groups who have done a brilliant job in areas as diverse as student leadership, sustainability, being a fantastic staff member, or an exceptional club or society. Nominations come from students, SU and university staff, so the Awards really reflect the SU-university partnership.

The event itself was incredible. The Anson Rooms were transformed from a functional event space into a glamorous and atmospheric venue with great food and fantastic live entertainment from Jazz Funk Soul, Hindu Soc (who later won Society of the Year), UkeSoc, plus an amazingly energetic Salsa performance. But, of course, it was the nominees and award winners that stole the show. The incredible enthusiasm shown by the audience for the winners was infectious. I can’t do justice to all the awards but will give you a brief picture, so you get the idea. The full list of nominees is on the SU website.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady, presented the student leader award to Amy-Leigh Hatton for her work as president of Student Action for Refugees. This was followed by a sustainability award for Maddie Kunkler for her leadership of the RAG, Volunteering and Sustainability Network and a volunteering award recognising Shivali Sharma’s work with Nightline. The Bristol Student Staff Solidarity Group won the Campaigns Award and the BME Network the Equality and Diversity Award.

It is inspirational to learn more about the contribution students make to the lives of their fellow students and the wider university. The winner of the Education Award, Sally Emerson has been Faculty of Science UG Rep and Chair of the Education Network during 2018-19 and Ed Southgate and Cameron Scheijde have edited Epigram, earning them the Student Media Award. Of course, staff too were recognised including Robiu Salisu with the University Staff Member Award for his work as BAME Student Inclusion Officer and Monica Pacek from the SU for her contribution to student engagement. Finally, the collaboration award went to the amazing East meets West initiative and the sports club of the year award to Women’s Football.

The event was hosted by the outgoing Sabbatical Officer team and their fellow student leaders – with Oscar ceremony levels of glamour but better speeches. Thank so much to the SU for hosting the event and inviting me to attend – and a huge well done to all the winners and nominees.

Bristol Mentors: celebrating a successful first year

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

On Friday 7 June I attended the Bristol Mentors end-of-year thank-you event at Colston Hall to celebrate the achievements and work of our mentors and mentees on the scheme. It seems like no time at all since the programme launched in the Richmond Building back in October 2018, but between now and then a significant amount of time and energy has been invested in the scheme.

Some headline stats for the work that has been undertaken are:

  • Over 100 applications were submitted for the pilot scheme, and 56 student mentees accepted onto the cohort.
  • Over 300 hours of time have been given up by mentors this year.
  • The majority of the cohort has been able to arrange invaluable shadowing, work experience and networking opportunities, helping to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the future.

For those of you who are not aware, the Bristol Mentors programme emerged partly from the desire of alumni to give back, and partly because students wanted to learn from graduates who had been there before them. The programme is funded via the University’s Access Agreement and works alongside the Widening Participation and Student Inclusion Team to ensure that students who need support hear about Bristol Mentors. All of our student mentees are from under-represented groups and many have already overcome a level of disadvantage to earn a place to study here.

Law student Tien Tonnu with her mentor Sam Rose

Bristol Mentors has quickly become a crucial new addition to the range of activities that we at the University of Bristol offer to help all students become more employable, with mentors also enabling students to broaden their professional networks. A testament to this is Tien Tonnu, pictured here with her mentor, Sam Rose (Mentor of the Year winner), who gained a spot on a very competitive vacation scheme at a Magic Circle law firm. Tien credits her success in winning a place to the support she received from Sam over the year.

The scheme is a great example of us working as a community – bringing our students and alumni together for mutual benefit. It is also a good example of cross-department collaboration between the Careers team and Development and Alumni Relations. The support of alumni and their voice is hugely important to the University, and this project demonstrates the value of alumni to current students, who describe the scheme in very positive terms:

  • “A fantastic practical insight”;
  • “The provision has been second to none”;
  • “I’m feeling excited and a lot less scared about my future”;
  • “Taking part [in Bristol Mentors] has been key to my success”;
  • “I’ve been truly inspired”.

We sincerely hope that some of these students, too, will become Bristol Mentors in the future. After this year’s successful pilot with 56 mentees, we are currently recruiting mentors for the 100 students enrolled in the programme for next year. If you know of any alumni who would like to become mentors, please contact alumni-mentoring@bristol.ac.uk or click on the Bristol Mentors link for further information.

Finally, none of this would have been possible without the hard work of the students taking part in this programme or the involvement of the alumni, so thank you to everyone involved, with a special thanks to the evening’s organisers: Doug Middling, Alumni Engagement Officer (Widening Participation) and Robbie Fox, Alumni Mentoring Coordinator (Careers).

The 2019 Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey – why it’s important and what we’ve been doing since last year.

Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience)

By Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience).

Young adults today are more likely to experience mental health problems than previous generations and around three in four adults who experience a mental illness will have symptoms before the age of 25[1].

Bristol takes its commitment to these issues very seriously and last year introduced an institution-wide Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey in partnership with the Bristol SU. The survey was responded to by over 5,700 students, making it one of the largest pieces of research into student mental health in the UK. It deepened our understanding of the issues affecting Bristol students and gave us valuable insight on how the support we provide is viewed.

The responses to the Survey in 2018 helped shape the University’s new Student Mental Health and  Wellbeing Strategy which outlines the work we’ll be doing to improve support for our students’ mental health and wellbeing. We’ve already began to implement some of the work highlighted in the strategy and hope the responses to this year’s Student Mental Health and Wellbeing survey will tell us if we’re on the right track – and inform us of what we can do better if not.

The survey for 2019 is now open and students can complete it at SMHW 2019.

Offering enough support to students is a must for any University. Keeping the channels open between us and our student community for conversation is essential to ensure that support is not only on offer, but right for them. The annual Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey is one such channel that provides our students an opportunity to have a confidential and frank discussion about what we offer and how we can continue to improve.

Last year’s findings have already done a huge amount towards our understanding of what our students are experiencing and their expectations. I hope this year’s findings will be equally insightful.


Here’s what we have done so far since last year’s survey.

Student wellbeing

Bristol students reported issues with their wellbeing, and one in four students said they didn’t have someone to talk to about their day-to-day problems.

Our Residential Life and Student Wellbeing Services are now providing 24/7 support for student wellbeing in residences and schools; helping students to manage their wellbeing proactively and ensuring there’s always someone to speak to for additional information, advice and support. We’ve also worked with Bristol SU to deliver the Bristol SU Living Room in Senate House; a space to relax, unwind and connect with other students whilst on campus.

Mental health

More than one in three Bristol students have experienced a diagnosed mental health problem at some point in their lives, and 80% of students with a mental health problem have seen a doctor since beginning University.

Additional University funding enables our Students’ Health Service to provide extended same day GP mental health appointments, and specialist support for students who have complex mental health conditions that require longer term psychological intervention. We’ve also increased the funding of our Mental Health Advice Team who support students with enduring mental health conditions to manage their healthcare needs alongside their studies.

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Research without Borders 2019

I have written before about how the extraordinary research taking place at our University seeks creative, unexpected solutions to global challenges that affect us all in our ordinary lives. This is a testament to the rich, interdisciplinary research culture we foster here at Bristol, and our drive to push the boundaries of knowledge through mutual discovery, collaboration and connections.

The University’s Research without Borders festival celebrates those members of the community who are the engines behind these collaborations and innovations: our postgraduate researchers. Often positioned out of sight from the public, they are the ones turning up each day to drive experiments, conversations and studies forward.

Research without Borders 2019 brings together postgraduate researchers from across disciplines to showcase some of the latest research that is taking place here at Bristol, and to celebrate the vital role our research students play in developing our renowned research profile.

And, perhaps more significantly, the festival aims to put this research into conversation with the wider community around us, and to create a space for connecting with our emerging generation of future researchers.

I warmly encourage anyone with an interest in asking questions, embracing surprises, and thinking creatively to attend this year’s Research without Borders events. The line-up is a fantastic multidisciplinary exploration of some of our key areas of research:

8th May: Chaired by the Cabot Institute, Bristol’s One City Plan: an interdisciplinary dialogue on a sustainable future city promises to be a lively discussion of the ambitious plan to make Bristol fair, healthy and sustainable by 2050.

9th May: Measurable humans: how good does our digital health look? held in collaboration with the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and our newly-funded EPSRC Digital Health and Care Centre for Doctoral Training, will be an interdisciplinary exploration of innovations and challenges in the digital health sector.

15th May: Showcase Exhibition at Colston Hall, where over 50 interactive, hands-on displays featuring the work of our postgraduate researchers will take over this iconic Bristol building. The showcase event is always a highlight of the University’s calendar, with something of interest for everyone. This year, we are exploring new ways of communicating research, and have commissioned an artwork with acclaimed artist Zoe Cameron produced in collaboration with some of our students to feature as a centrepiece to reflect on what ‘research without borders’ means.

It is important to remember that the problems our academics, students and peers work on in all universities are issues that are not confined by borders – geographical, disciplinary or otherwise. Today’s complex issues affect us all in one way or another. Research without Borders is a festival which celebrates what happens when we work across borders: whether it is our researchers working across disciplines, or our academic community reaching out across to our city’s community.

I look forward to seeing many of you in attendance at this year’s events, and to hearing your own contributions and insights to the research on offer.

Taking the spirit of Bristol to China

Dr Erik Lithander, Pro Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement

I do love graduation. Giddy excitement, uneasy anticipation, jangled nerves… and that’s just those who run the ceremony! As for the graduating students, their facial expressions generally range from barely contained surprise to steely nonchalance, but by the time they reach the end of their short walk across the stage their emotions invariably coalesce into irrepressible pride in their achievements. That mix of emotions, an in particular the opportunity to share them with friends and loved ones in the magnificent Great Hall, is what makes graduation one of the most memorable occasions in the University of Bristol experience.

Cognisant of the fact that many of our Chinese students miss out on a Great Hall graduation because of visa restrictions or the inability to travel back for the ceremony with their families, we have been bringing the Bristol graduation to China since 2013. The upcoming degree conferring ceremony in Shanghai scheduled for Saturday April 13th will be our 5th, and sends a strong message to our 2,500 strong Chinese student population that they are an integral part of our University community.

The Shanghai ceremony will bring together nearly 1,000 graduands and guests in a magnificent event that we will make as true to the original as is humanly possible: academic gowns, organ music and even the opportunity to have your photograph taken with the Wills Memorial tower in the background (thanks to the marvels of a green screen photo booth).

As in previous years, our Chinese graduation ceremony will form the centrepiece of a much broader ‘Bristol in China’ mission which this year is led jointly by Vice-Chancellor Professor Hugh Brady and our Chancellor Sir Paul Nurse, who is participating for the first time. Sir Paul’s academic rock-star status in China is bound to make a lasting impression on our graduates and their guests, as well as on the science students who will be guests at a lecture he will give at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing a few days later.

Whilst graduation is certainly the largest event taking place, it is just one of many lined up for the delegation across the week.  Whilst in Shanghai we will also be hosting an alumni reception, career workshop, offer-holder event and media interviews. Many of these will be repeated when we then travel on to Beijing.

There will also be institutional visits to partner universities in cities like Changchun and Chengdu. Here we will reinforce our commitment to shared initiatives such as joint academic programmes, research collaboration and student exchanges, and will no doubt once again be blown away by the sheer scale and ambition of the ongoing investment in higher education infrastructure in China.

We will also be reuniting with Professor Bai Chunli, President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who we awarded an honorary degree in 2015, further helping to strengthen our relationship and dialogue with key associates in China.

Despite our modest size compared to many Chinese universities, the University of Bristol’s own ambitions resonate strongly in China. We invariably get significant interest in our Bristol Futures curriculum and its innovation-global citizenship-sustainability axis, all three of which are high on the agendas of China’s leading universities.

Explaining the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus and the gradual reframing of our engagement with our city and its communities also garners significant attention, where the link between university research, innovation, entrepreneurship and civil society is also a topic of animated discussion!

The University of Bristol has a great story to tell. If nothing else, our China graduation reminds us that the very best people to help us tell that story are our fabulous graduates, regardless of whether they cross the stage in the Great Hall or in the Ritz Carlton. I declare open this congregation for the conferment of degrees…

 

Provost Celebration of Academic Achievement Receptions

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

On Thursday last week (21 March) colleagues from across the University gathered together in Royal Fort House to celebrate the achievements of  Bristol Futures and to recognise colleagues who have worked so hard to deliver this transformational educational initiative. This event was part of a new series of monthly Provost Academic Achievement Receptions that I established when I took up my new role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost in January, designed to recognise just some of the many outstanding academic achievements of staff across the University.

The January celebration marked the Outstanding Ofsted result obtained by the School of Education, in which our PGCE programme was deemed outstanding in every category. Sadly, this event was affected by the threat of snow and amber weather warnings, so we had to wait for our February celebration of EPSRC CDT success to really get the series underway.

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Our gender pay gap: further steps on the journey to equality

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

In a recent Bristol Uni Women blog post I reflected on the importance of gender equality at Bristol. Now, as we publish our 2019 Gender Pay Gap Report, I wanted to highlight our progress in relation to our gender pay gap and to outline just a couple of the things that we are doing to ensure that we are rewarding individuals equally for their work, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background as part of our commitment to fostering an inclusive community, increasing the diversity within our staff population, and eliminating the gender pay gap.

Our 2019 report: key findings

Our 2019 Gender Pay Gap Report fulfils the government requirement for all employers with 250 or more employees to publish details of women’s and men’s pay across their organisation, and to set out their plans for redressing any inequalities. It also provides us with an important opportunity to evaluate our progress, both against our own ambitions and against national benchmarks.

Our Report shows that, compared to last year, our median gender pay gap has reduced by 2.6%, and now stands at 13.6%. This is considerably lower than the Office of National Statistics UK-wide gap of 17.9% and represents welcome progress. Nonetheless, there is clearly still more to be done. (more…)

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