The Palm Temple – a beautiful new installation with a poignant message

The University of Bristol has been actively involved in addressing environmental and sustainability issues for many years.

I’m proud that we’ve made considerable progress at an institutional level including the provision of clean energy, the introduction of more responsible consumption practices, a significant reduction in carbon emissions (even pre-COVID), as well as wider progress across a host of other key areas aligned to UN Sustainable Development Goals.

We are also taking active steps to improve biodiversity across all 1,000 acres of our estate. For example, the Life Sciences Building, one of several buildings designed to foster biodiversity, has a ‘living wall’ along with two sedum roofs and bat and bird roosts. We have also received a ‘Bees Need’ champion award for the contribution of our meadows to bees and pollinating insects, and we are now committed to becoming a Hedgehog Friendly Campus as part of a national accreditation scheme funded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

I am particularly proud that we were the first UK University to declare a climate emergency last year, reaffirming our strong commitment to act on climate change.

Sustainability must be rooted in all that we do – from our world-leading research, our teaching, and the way we operate as an institution – the concept underpins our aspirations to be a global civic university. We also want to use our position to raise awareness of sustainability and the climate emergency by other means, including through our art, our public engagement, and our presence in the City.

To that end, I’m delighted that internationally renowned Bristol-based artist Luke Jerram this week very generously donated his latest installation, ‘The Palm Temple’, to our University.

Luke Jerram's The Palm Temple

Many of you will be familiar with Luke’s past work including his ‘Museum of the Moon‘ installation; his ‘Park and Slide’ project, in which he turned Park Street into a giant water slide for one day; the ‘Impossible Garden‘ exhibition at our Botanic Garden; and ‘Gaia‘, which was hosted by the Cabot Institute for the Environment last year; and, of course, his street pianos installation ‘Play Me, I’m Yours‘, which has been presented in over 60 cities and enjoyed by more than 10 million people worldwide.

The Palm Temple, which is now permanently located outside the School of Chemistry, was originally commissioned by Sky Arts in Italy as a celebration of the 600th anniversary of Brunelleschi’s dome of Florence Cathedral (Duomo di Firenze). It is based on a spiralling lamella dome structure cut in half, with the two halves placed in parallel, like two palms of each hand coming together in prayer. However, while Florence Cathedral is a temple for contemplating God, this new artwork is designed for contemplating nature.

The Palm Temple outside the School of Chemistry

Made of cedar wood and dichroic panelled windows (a reference to the stained-glass windows of its Duomo di Firenze inspiration) The Palm Temple’s floor is mirrored to reflect the dome above, providing a surreal and spectacular experience from multiple vantage points.

Suspended in the apex of the dome is an ‘Extinction Bell’, which tolls once, 150 to 200 times a day, at random intervals, every 24 hours (a representation of the number of species lost every day according to a 2007 UN Environmental Programme). This provides us all with a poignant reminder of biodiversity loss and the impact of human activity on natural habitats around the world.

It is a real joy for us to accept this generous donation from Luke and the piece resonates so well with the shared values and research of colleagues and students across our University, and our City. In particular, its theme reflects the work of a number of our colleagues, including research by the Cabot Institute and the Urban Pollinators Project which is studying insect pollinators in urban habitats in the UK.

Professor Squires inside The Palm Temple

The Palm Temple is a truly remarkable and aesthetically beautiful work of art. Alongside our teaching, research and wider civic activities, I hope it helps engage different audiences across our City on the importance of sustainability – a public art installation for students, staff and the public to explore, reflect on and enjoy.

An update on the work of the Anti-Racism Steering Group

Following the publication of our Institutional Statement on Race Equality in March, and as part of our response to the Black Lives Matter movement in June, the senior leadership team announced the establishment of a new Anti-Racism Steering Group.

The Group, co-chaired by myself and Dr Jane Khawaja, aims to help the University develop strategies and take action to address individual, cultural and structural racism across our institution. Reporting directly to University Executive Board (UEB), the Group will develop an institutional action plan focused on key pillars that will incorporate:

  1. Teaching and Learning: to cohere with the attainment gap plan
  2. Recruitment: of staff and students, to include widening participation
  3. Naming: buildings and the crest
  4. Support: for students and staff – harassment policies and training.
  5. Governance: to include external validation and recognition
  6. Research and Civic Engagement: connects to city partners and collaborative research

As you can see, the Group has a wide-ranging remit and will build upon many of the activities and initiatives that are already in place. These include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Establishing the BAME Staff Network where colleagues can share a sense of community and work with us to ensure that BAME staff have a consistent and positive experience at the University;
  • Setting targets to significantly increase the number of Black students and Asian students enrolling at the University by 2025;
  • Creating the new post of Professor of the History of Slavery at the University, and the appointment of Professor Olivette Otele earlier this year;
  • Signing-up to the Race Equality Charter (REC) and our ambition to submit for recognition in 2021;
  • Delivering outreach work with local schools and community groups;
  • Increasing our support for local communities, most recently by reaching out to the Changing Your Mindset group in Bristol to support young people’s success;
  • Delivering the Insight into Bristol summer school programme which guarantees students who complete the programme an offer of a place at the university, usually at the contextual offer level;
  • Launching Report and Support – a new online platform that offers staff and students a quick and easy way to report specific incidents;
  • Developing our Stand Up Speak Out web resource bringing together a range of policy, support and learning resources for staff who may be experiencing or witnessing unacceptable behaviour at work;
  • Participating in the Stepping Up initiative, a positive action programme aimed at improving the representation of BAME people, as well as other groups, in senior leadership roles within Bristol and the wider region;
  • Launching an apprenticeship talent pipeline to drive ethnic diversity whilst taking into consideration the skills gaps present in underrepresented groups in industry demand areas such as Finance, IT, Human Resources, Engineering and the Creative Industries;
  • Publishing the results of our first Ethnicity Pay Gap Report and taking action to address any inequalities;
  • Introducing positive action measures and training in unconscious bias with a specific focus on recruitment and promotion of staff;
  • Funding research internships which provide paid experience in research for new graduates, in order to increase the number of BAME students progressing to postgraduate study;
  • Setting an ambitious target to eliminate the BAME awards gap at the university by 2025 and developed a comprehensive action plan to address this, informed by research we have commissioned from Bristol SU;
  • Beginning the work of decolonising our curricula, led by academic colleagues with expertise in this area;
  • Providing staff training in race equality; harassment and hate crime awareness training delivered by SARI; and intercultural awareness training delivered by Kynfolk;
  • Providing access to specialist counselling services for our BAME students and staff from Nilaari;
  • Establishing a web-based resource drawn from research published by University of Bristol researchers around race, racism and anti-racism;
  • Sponsoring the East Bristol Into University Centre which serves an area of the city with a high BAME population;
  • Supporting city-based projects such as CARGO (Charting African Resilience Generating Opportunities) and Iconic Black Britons.

Leading the case for legislative change

A key focus for members of the Steering Group will be a review of our recruitment practices. The senior leadership team is committed to increasing the racial diversity of the University’s workforce across all levels of our institution and we have initiated a range of action to support progress in this space over the years.

However, we recognise that after almost ten years of working within the constraints and uncertainty of the positive action measures included in the Equality Act 2010, more directive action is needed.

We believe that a tension exists within the existing legislation between direct discrimination and positive action measures. This tension has restricted efforts to improve the representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff across our organisations, our city and across the wider UK.

To that end, alongside several other local organisations and community groups, we are formally requesting that the government introduce an amendment to existing provisions in the Equality Act relating to direct discrimination.

This amendment aims to enable specific ethnic groups to be treated more favourably in employment that other ethnicities where we reasonably think that the specific ethnic group experiences disadvantage. It would also provide clarity and reassurance to employers in terms of what is and is not permissible by law to improve representation of specific ethnic groups in all levels of employment where they are currently under-represented.

Ultimately, an amendment of this kind would support all employers to take a flexible, evidence-based and focused approach that would actively seek to level the playing field and minimise barriers to employment experienced by different ethnic groups.

You can read more about the campaign in this Bristol 24/4 article which features our employability and opportunity manager, Rebecca Scott.

Next steps

I’m proud that out University is leading the way on this campaign and we hope to garner widespread support for our proposed changes. However, we recognise that parliamentary action can take time and success is not guaranteed. In the meantime, we will continue to develop a targeted and segmented approach to positive action measures with the view to develop their efficacy and impact across our community.

We must eradicate racial discrimination in all its forms from our University and ensure the experience of studying and working here is positive and welcoming for everyone, of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. We aim to be bold and far reaching in our action, as I hope the above example demonstrates.

There is still much work to do, but I look forward to updating you on further progress in the coming months.

 

Provost Celebrations of Academic Achievement – Faculty of Science  

It is always a great pleasure to host the monthly Provost Academic Achievement celebrations, gathering to recognise the most significant academic achievements of colleagues across the University.

At previous events we have celebrated our CDT award success, the Institute of Digital Futures RPIF funding, the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration award, an impressive range of ESRC and AHRC research awards, phenomenal Horizon 2020 success and the ALSPAC (Children of the 90s) renewal award. Each event has been uplifting, and a welcome reminder of the real talent we have in our university community. 

This month, we gathered to celebrate the truly outstanding achievement of colleagues in the Faculty of Science. These events usually take place in Royal Fort House. As you’d expect this month, we’ve had to take a slightly different approach and move proceedings online.  Happily, that didn’t diminish the celebrations. Indeed, the virtual format allowed us to invite more colleagues to take part and help amplify the celebration!  

It was heartening to see so many people join us to acknowledge the achievements of their colleagues, and there were an impressive number of awards to celebrate.  

  • Dann Mitchell and team, Met Office Partnership
    Dann recently led our successful proposal for the University join forces with the Met Office and UCL in a move which will strengthen the UK as a world leader in predicting climate hazards and tackling their far-reaching impact. This is a fantastic result for the University that will benefit the whole institution.         
  • Jonathan Rigg, Royal Geographical Society Victoria Medal
    The Victoria Medal recognises “conspicuous merit in research in geography” and has been given, in honour of the late Queen Victoria, since 1902.  Professor Rigg now joins a distinguished club which includes the likes of George Darwin. Jonathan’s work has focused on understanding – and judging – the effects of agrarian transformations on rural livelihoods in Asia, especially on poorer sections of rural society.   
  • Emma Raven, Royal Society of Chemistry 2020 Interdisciplinary Prize
    Professor Raven was awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry 2020 Interdisciplinary Prize for her seminal contributions to understanding the structure and function of heme proteins, which form part of hemoglobin, and their role in biology. 
  • Chris Willis, Royal Society of Chemistry 2020 Award for Natural Product Chemistry
    Professor Willis’s award was given for research centred on understanding how bacteria and fungi produce biologically active compounds with the aim of harnessing the complex biosynthetic machinery to produce new bioactive compounds cleanly and efficiently.  
  • Tony Davis, Royal Society of Chemistry 2020 Robert Robinson Award
    Professor Davis received the Robert Robinson Award for outstanding contributions to the design and synthesis of selective carbohydrate receptors with potential to improve the wellbeing of those with diabetes.  
  • Dek Woolfson, Humboldt Research Award      
    Professor Woolfson’s research has always been at the interface between chemistry and biology, applying chemical methods and principles to understand biological phenomena such as protein folding and stability. The award is given by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany and is reserved for nominees from outside Germany who are internationally renowned for their academic research and expected to continue to make contributions to their respective disciplines. 
  • Stephen Hayden, Institute of Physics Mott Prize
    Professor Hayden was awarded the prestigious Mott Medal from the Institute of Physics (IOP) for his distinguished contributions to condensed matter physics. The award recognises, celebrates and reflects the impact and applications of physics in everyday life, the breadth of the discipline in academia, industry and medicine, and its impact in extraordinary human achievements.   
  • Rich Pancost, Jeremy Philips and Frances Cooper, Athena SWAN Silver Award
    The School of Earth Sciences has achieved a coveted Silver Athena SWAN award, which recognises the impact the School’s actions, initiatives, and policies have made on gender equality. The School nearly has gender balance at every level of its academic, technical and professional staff and more than 40% of professors are women.

These achievements show the incredible strength and depth of academic excellence that exists across the Faculty of Science. It’s a truly outstanding result for one school to win three Royal Society of Chemistry prizes in one year and the Earth Sciences Athena Swan Silver is a fantastic achievement, and testament to the great teamwork of colleagues in the school. The University now has 10 Bronze awards and 6 Silver Awards.

Congratulations to all. I’m very much looking forward to celebrating the success and achievements of other colleagues at future events 

Thanks and Recognition – help make a colleague’s day

It’s been two months since the University launched Thanks and Recognition – a new way for us all to thank colleagues for doing such a great job, supporting us in our time of need or going above and beyond.

In that time, more than 350 personal messages of thanks have been posted on the Thanks and Recognition Wall, and the Wall itself has had over 10,000 views from colleagues across our community.

There are countless examples of situations where we want to thank our colleagues. We created Thanks and Recognition to try and capture some of these and, if the recipient of thanks allows, share and amplify them to colleagues across our University.

The messages I’ve seen have been touching and uplifting, and each one undoubtedly helped to make the recipient’s day. The Wall now hosts hundreds of messages thanking colleagues for everything from their valued support with research and new ideas, to their help delivering inspiring and inclusive learning, their kindness in looking out for the wellbeing of colleagues and students, and their small, everyday acts of kindness that have meant a great deal to colleagues during difficult times.

I am particularly pleased that colleagues from every faculty and division are represented on the Wall – our institution is well known for its collegiality and it has been wonderful to see that spirit on display in this way.

We have received some great feedback on Thanks and Recognition and, for that reason, our fantastic in-house team has been working to further enhance the system and make it even better. We will be launching a new and improved system in the next few weeks – watch this space.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to take a look at the Thanks and Recognition Wall and read some of heart-warming messages of thanks and recognition it holds. Better still, why not submit your own message of thanks to a colleague or team that really deserves it and help make their day.

Let’s lose the deficit language about online education

Reading the national press, you might think that universities had just performed the last rites over centuries of in-person and on-campus teaching.

The argument being peddled by journalists whose experience of lectures was clearly more inspirational than mine, is somewhat simplistic and misleading. It suggests that a curriculum without live lectures equates to the end of all in-person teaching, as if practicals, laboratories, seminars, and tutorials do not count. Headline catching it may be; true it is not.

There are good arguments why universities are putting lectures online. Any university which has a vague interest in keeping the R rate down and being public health spirited would not wish to cram 400 students into a large airless lecture mimicking a static version of the Diamond Princess, but with younger passengers.

Kill the sacred lecture cow

But the naivety of the journalists’ critique is not about public health, it’s about what counts as higher education, and the totemic status of lectures. Anyone who has worked within an inch of higher education in the last 10 to 15 years will know that attendance at live lectures has dwindled dramatically since the installation of lecture capture which records the dulcet or droning tones of a lecture.

Students vote with their feet, and when there is no value added of engagement, interaction or inspiration, they prefer to flick open their laptops and watch the lecture at a speed and time that suits them, fast-forwarding when they are bored, and replaying when they need to rehearse the material to grasp a tricky concept.

Long before the dawn of lecture capture, Graham Gibbs wrote a swingeing critique of this most venerated of teaching genres, entitled “Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing”. His argument, in a nutshell, was that students learn very little from most of their lectures. This argument has been borne out by Astin’s research in the USA, which demonstrated that student involvement and “close contact” with lecturers and other students was the stuff of learning in higher education.

Until the virus struck, online education was largely the preserve of the Open University. No other university would have chosen to offer online education as the way to sustain some or all of its provision.

Here and there, various universities had made forays into the digital, without allowing it to affect the primacy of traditional teaching approaches. Most older universities persisted with the convention of sepia-toned lectures in the rarefied atmosphere of wood-panelled rooms; some, both old and new, stretched the convention into funky new buildings which hinted at digital futures.

In yesterday’s world, groups of students trudged up hills and crowded in corridors holding laptops in one hand, lattes in the other. They listened, took notes (or not), made halting attempts to participate, even venturing one or two questions in the lecture halls, while others, more confident, dominated conversations in seminars.

Many endured a long silence: listening, waiting, and watching. In applied subjects, students often made a more vibrant entry into disciplinary conversations, whether through building model bridges in civil engineering, or rehearsing a performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. For most, conversations occurred in halls or houses of multiple occupancy, or through clubs and societies and at social gatherings.

Normal was the problem

This was higher education in the UK as we knew it before the new normal. We will all have some nostalgia for the way things were. But as many commentators have argued – “we cannot return to normal, because normal was the problem.”

Don’t get me wrong here – in person teaching is clearly a brilliant way of teaching, with all its nuance, spontaneity, sense-checking, embodiment and thrill of performance. Students in face to face contexts may enjoy an expansive experience of chatting on the way to class, in the library and laboratory, and in various hang outs, where so many deep conversations take place. This shapes who students are and who they become.

But I’m not sure universities had grasped the full potential of face to face education before the shutters came down on 23 March. Certainly, many lectures were patchily attended and caught in a strange time-warp.

Online education is showing me and my colleagues some fantastic things that we can do so much better and will, I hope, shape our practice as teachers in higher education forever. At the University of Bristol, we are running a series of digital design courses, and we have about 50 digital champions in schools working with the central Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching.

Today I was in a session with nearly 200 academics, and they were reflecting on their “Aha!” moments about online education from the emergency online pivot. Among this sample, some green shoots are poking through the rough ground which point to the potential of the digital to do some distinctive things. The list is not exhaustive but online education seems to:

  • personalise learning, with students working at their own pace and thoughtfully going back to material in their own time
  • trigger a shift from content-driven curricula (the idea of ‘covering content’) to carefully structured and selective bite-sized lectures with engaging tasks which
  • help students get to grips with concepts
  • draw out different voices and invite questions from students who do not routinely contribute to discussion in face to face sessions – when done well, it seems to
  • be more inclusive
  • prompt student engagement, agency and autonomy
  • take the focus off assessment and enable more learning through carefully designed tasks
  • promote participation, writing, and an enduring kind of community.

This all may sound a bit utopian in our decidedly dystopian world, but I want to make a case for shifting the narrative about online education from a deficit one.

It’s different from in-person education, and it struggles to replicate practice-based activities, and the human interactions you need to develop the skills to become a dentist, for example. But we need to find ways to ensure that we see some advantages to this different (albeit unchosen) mode of education and garner the benefits of its particular world of possibilities. From my interactions with colleagues, the most striking possibility is that the conversation has crept from the corridors and into the classroom, and that may be a very rich thing indeed.

As we set our faces to an uncertain and hybrid educational future in September, the community of academics at the University of Bristol is proud of its efforts at online education, and excited at the fresh educational winds blowing in our direction.

It won’t be easy; it won’t be cheap; but our online education won’t be a paltry imitation of old and tired genres like the lecture. And we are saving the best kinds of interaction which enable students to learn the most, for on campus teaching in small groups and in laboratories, on a scale that Covid-19 will allow, and in ways that our scientific invention might enable.

Black Lives Matter

The reality of racism was brought into sharp and disturbing focus last week as we saw how for some people Black lives simply do not matter. Sadly, the death of George Floyd in the United States is not a one-off occurrence and Black communities across the globe face racism, violence, and discrimination on an everyday basis.

We stand in solidarity with our Black staff and students against all forms of racism and social injustice.  At times like these, it is all too easy to look to people of colour to educate those around them, adding to the pressure and trauma that many are already experiencing during this time.

We recognise that it is not the responsibility of our Black colleagues and students to convince us why we need to tackle societal, structural, and institutional racism. It is the responsibility of us all to eradicate racism. We will continue to challenge this through our research, our education, and our civic engagements.  Our University with its critical role in education and shaping social policy, must be at the forefront of the continuing struggle against prejudice and inequity based on race.

We recognise that, as a University, we still have our own issues, and we are working hard to address these. Many of our Black students and staff feel isolation and discomfort as they experience daily microaggressions across campus.  We encourage students and staff to report any incident of racial harassment and seek support from us.  There is no place for racism at our University.

As the global coronavirus pandemic continues, we are also aware of evidence that Black people, as well as Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people, are at disproportionately higher risk of illness, death, and bereavement.  We are conscious that this places additional stress and burden on our community. We offer wellbeing and mental health support to all our staff and students including those affected by racism:

To find out more about our activities to support our institutional commitment to race equality please see our Institutional Statement on Race Equality

Bristol Research: the Digital Fireside Talks

In my role as Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health and Life Sciences), I’ve been paying very close attention to the University’s research response to COVID-19.

To say I’ve been inspired by what I’ve seen in recent weeks would be an understatement. We can all be proud of Bristol research and the University’s contribution to the global effort to understand and combat COVID-19. From collaborating on one of only four global candidate vaccine trials, to research aimed at supporting the most vulnerable during social distancing – the scale, speed and scope of our coronavirus-related research activity has been nothing short of incredible.

I wanted to find a way of shining a light on some of this fantastic work. That’s why we’ve launched ‘Bristol Research: the Digital Fireside Talks’ – a new series of short video conversations where, over the next few weeks, I’ll be speaking to some of our research leaders about their response to COVID-19.

In this first episode, “Test, Test, Test”, I was delighted to be joined by Adam Finn – Professor of Paediatrics, director of the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre and chair of the World Health Organisation’s European Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. Most recently, Adam took on the role of leading Bristol UNCOVER – a group researchers united in their efforts to understand and combat the many health and societal challenges raised by COVID-19.

Adam talks about the origins and work of UNCOVER and his own research into testing for COVID-19.

I hope you find the conversation interesting, and my thanks to Adam for taking time out from his hectic schedule to take part.

Episode 1: “Test, Test, Test

Visit the Digital Fireside Talks blog to view all episodes in the series.

International Women’s Day Celebration of BAME Women

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations at the University have been bigger and better than ever. I’m incredibly grateful to staff and students who’ve shared their personal experiences at IWD events across campus this week – your stories have been an inspiration to us all.

Attendees at the International Women’s Day celebration of BAME women in Royal Fort House

As a University, we’ve been working hard to improve gender equality. The University Strategy sets out an ambitious commitment to eradicate the gender pay gap in the professoriate, and we also set a target of increasing the percentage of female professors to 33 per cent by 2023. Since announcing these commitments in 2016 we’ve made real progress, with new initiatives to support women’s career development and a new academic promotions framework. We are on track to meet our 2023 targets. Our latest organisational Gender Pay Gap has reduced by 2.5% since 2017 and I’m particularly proud that we are the first UK University to issue a landmark Collective Agreement outlining the next key actions which will be taken to address the academic gender pay gap. All of our work in this area has earned us a shortlisting for the Guardian University Awards in the Staff Experience category.

The senior team is determined to address all areas of inequality across our University and create a level playing field for everybody, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity or cultural background. Acknowledging there is a problem is an important first step. We must also listen to and learn from fellow colleagues.

It was my pleasure this week to host Professor Olivette Otele and Dr Jane Khawaja for an International Women’s Day celebration of BAME women in Royal Fort House.

Both Olivette and Jane shared candid accounts of their lives and career progression to date. At times deeply poignant, with grace and good humour both women talked of the highs and lows (including racism and other forms of prejudice) they’ve experienced as BAME women pursuing a career in academia.

The need for perseverance was a common theme for overcoming the challenges they faced, as was the importance of celebrating and reflecting on success. However, both women were clear they would not have achieved their success without the support of a close network of family, friends, colleagues and (crucially) mentors.

With this in mind, I would encourage eligible colleagues to sign-up to our Bristol Women’s Mentoring Network. Here, female staff at grades K, L and M can receive mentoring support, advice and guidance from female colleagues in senior roles. It’s been wonderful to see the network already making a real difference to the progression of our female staff and I was particularly pleased that Professor Esther Crawley won South West Public Sector Mentor of the Year for her participation in the scheme. I look forward to seeing it continue to develop.

While we are making progress to tackle gender and racial inequality at Bristol, as a leadership team we recognise there’s still a long way to go. That’s why we’re examining our recruitment practices, our institutional cultures and our reward and recognition systems. We’ll also shortly be publishing our first-ever ethnicity pay gap report alongside our statutory gender pay gap report. While this isn’t yet required by law, we believe it’s the right thing to do to and it will help us understand and address the challenge head-on.

I’m confident that together we can bring an end to both gender and racial inequality at Bristol and I hope this year’s IWD provided an opportunity to both reflect on and celebrate all the incredible women in our university community – it certainly has for me.

Introducing the Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC) and welcoming Professor Isabella Aboderin

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

It has been a great pleasure to welcome Professor Isabella Aboderin, Professor of Gerontology and our Perivoli Chair in Africa Research and Partnerships, who will direct activities in the new Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC).

Professor Isabella Adoderin, Professor of Gerontology and Perivoli Chair in Africa Research and Partnerships.

The Centre is aimed at furthering interdisciplinary research and initiatives that are responsive to, and help advance Africa’s population and development and innovation agendas (e.g. in the fields of education, health, sustainable agriculture, social or governance issues) and at deepening collaboration between the University, African research, policy, civil society and private sector bodies, and international agencies.

PARC will seek to add value to, and build on the University’s existing broad portfolio of Africa-oriented research, and to offer a community and platform for exchange for all those engaged or interested in such work – in the University and the city, broadly. PARC aims to become a model hub for forward-looking, respectful UK-Africa cooperation in research and learning by:

  • fostering fresh, critical thinking on necessary frames and approaches for UK-Africa partnerships, and for the production of knowledge on and for the continent,
  • forging new, and consolidating existing focal partnerships with African and international institutions and networks (g. Worldwide Universities Network),
  • developing strategic ‘signature’ programmes of evidence generation, policy and practice engagement and innovation that speak to African priorities at regional, sub-regional, national or local levels and that bring together and extend existing clusters of interdisciplinary expertise within the University,
  • expanding student and faculty exchange, and supporting Africa-led research capacity strengthening initiatives, and
  • curating, and facilitating internal and external engagement with the evolving body of Africa-focused research at the University of Bristol.

Isabella has completed something of a round trip, returning to Bristol where she did both her undergraduate and doctoral studies. Prior to taking up the new Chair, Isabella held a dual appointment as Senior Research Scientist and Head of the Aging and Development Unit at the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC), Nairobi, and as Associate Professor of Gerontology at the University of Southampton.

The Centre has been funded through a generous donation from the Perivoli Trust, which has funded key projects in the University over the last decade. The Trust has a philanthropic focus mostly on the Emerging World and especially Africa. Its Schools Trust has transformed nursery education in Namibia, Malawi and Zambia, training 5,500 nursery school teachers and positively impacting the lives of an estimated 150,000 children. The £1m gift to establish PARC is emblematic of our shared ambition to work on innovative approaches to benefit generations for years to come in Africa.

We will be hosting an internal networking event on Monday 23 March, ahead of PARC’s anticipated full launch, expected to take place on Tuesday 20 October. I’m sure that you will join me in welcoming Isabella and wishing her and the PARC team well in establishing this exciting new part of the University research ecosystem.

Celebrating Global Challenges Research Fund successes

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

It was a great pleasure to mark the first in the 2020 series of Provost Celebrations of Academic Achievement by welcoming colleagues to Royal Fort House to celebrate our Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) successes on 16 January.

Provost Professor Judith Squires celebrates our Global Challenges funding success with colleagues
Professor Judith Squires (Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Provost) and Professor Paddy Ireland (Interim PVC Research) celebrating the GCRF successes with award-holders and colleagues from RED.

The GCRF is an initiative driven by the United Nation’s ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, which has at its heart 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals represent a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. In response to the 2030 Agenda, the Government published its aid strategy which aims to:

      • address global challenges through disciplinary and interdisciplinary research;
      • strengthen capability for research and innovation, with developing countries and the UK; and
      • enable an agile response to emergencies and opportunities.

      All GCRF research projects must also focus on delivering benefits and outcomes which promote the welfare and economic development of Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs).

      We have been extremely successful in securing funding via this scheme here at the University of Bristol.  This success was facilitated by the early development of Bristol’s Global Challenges strategy, which Research England commended to other higher education institutions (HEIs) to encourage best practice, acknowledging the excellence and effort demonstrated by Bristol’s approach. The strategy was been expertly supported by our Global Challenges Steering Group, composed of experts in Official Development Assistance, with representation from Bristol’s Research Institutes and Faculty Research Directors.  Their guidance has been invaluable – and is much appreciated.

      As a result of our strategy, the University has been incredibly successful in attracting funding from the GCRF, with a success rate above 40%, and around £2 million a year coming in via QR funding (quality-related research funding, determined by the periodic assessment of HEIs) to support the activities outlined in the strategy. Since 2016, we have secured over 130 external awards worth more than £30 million.  Two examples include:

      • Professor Matthew Avison received £1.8m to lead the One Health Drivers of Antibacterial Resistance in Thailand (OH-DART) consortium. Working with colleagues at the Universities of Exeter and Bath, Mahidol University, Chulabhorn Research Institute and the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. The consortium’s aim is to define and prioritise the drivers of antibacterial drug resistance in humans in the community in Thailand, taking a multi-disciplinary approach.
      • Professor Leon Tikly and partners from India, Rwanda, Somalia and South Africa have received £4.65m to Transform Educations Systems for Sustainable Development. The aim of this research is to develop an understanding of how education systems can act as drivers of sustainable development.

      Many congratulations to everyone – academics and professional services – involved in these projects, and all the 130 projects, secured since 2016.  Congratulations too to Professor Helen Lambert, who has been appointed as Global Challenge Leader for Health on a part-time secondment to UKRI to March 2021.

      The event last week was held as a small ‘thank you’ to all those colleagues who have worked so hard to obtain these important GCRF funding awards and to help pursue the sustainable development goals. May our success in addressing the global challenges identified in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development continue.