The Global Lounge is here (and also popping up over there)

It’s a confusing time to be an advocate for internationalisation. Our societies, our economies and our popular culture are irrepressibly international, but the political discourse around us is intent on maligning it. As someone who has lived in nine countries (for an average of five years each!), multiculturalism is so ingrained in me that I stare agape at efforts to contain it.

From where I sit, safeguarding the provision of an international and multicultural educational experience for all of our students is an absolute priority. That’s why I’m so pleased that, earlier this month, the Anson Rooms came alive with a distinctly international flavour when over 300 students and staff helped to launch the University of Bristol Global Lounge, a central component of our internationalisation strategy. For those who were unable to attend, a summary has been published on the staff and PGR intranet.

Although the University of Bristol has had a fundamentally international outlook since its establishment over 100 years ago, recent years have seen a more purposeful focus on internationalisation as a strategic priority at the institutional level. The Global Lounge concept speaks to two of the objectives in the current internationalisation strategy: to provide all students with an international and multicultural campus experience; and to ensure that our international students are well supported and integrated into the overall campus community. Having seen Global Lounges used to great effect at a number of universities around the world, most notably at University College Dublin, where I had the opportunity to open one in 2011, I have been convinced that Bristol, too, would benefit from having such a resource.

Members of the audience at the Global Lounge launch

Ahead of the opening of its permanent home in Senate House in 2021, the Global Lounge will for now operate in pop-up mode from a variety of locations. This ‘moveable feast’ approach will not only allow the Global Lounge’s activities to become familiar to students and staff across the campus, it will also allow us to refine our understanding of the types of activities and physical infrastructure that we want to prioritise in due course in Senate House.

Far from being simply targeted at international students, the activities run under the Global Lounge umbrella are designed with the entire campus community in mind. A significant schedule of events will be developed with a view to celebrating diversity and multiculturalism on campus – events such as national day celebrations, major international events (including sporting competitions!) and religious holidays. It is a platform that can be used any anyone who wishes to promote or share globally themed activities, and it will also play a very important part in welcoming our growing international student population to the University and making sure that they have a home on campus. Please do contact our Global Lounge team if you have any ideas for events or initiatives that they could support.

Event posters at the Global Lounge launch

The Global Lounge will also work with the wider Bristol community, charities and local organisations to provide an opportunity for the public to get involved in University life, and for our students to become more involved with their city.

This new resource can only exist through a strong collaboration with our Students’ Union. I’m delighted to see that Bristol SU and the Global Lounge have already established a strong partnership and are working together brilliantly on this initiative.

The Global Lounge website is now live. Take a look, book yourself a ticket to one of the exciting events that are lined up, and come and find out what Global Lounge is all about.

At a time when some of the loudest politicians advocate our becoming more insular, I stand firm in my support for an unashamedly international campus. The Global Lounge is a powerful expression of that intent.


Bringing our climate change commitments to life

I cannot think of a single issue in my lifetime that has so rapidly achieved a dominant position in the public conscience and the media discourse than the current climate emergency movement.

Significantly, at the end of a summer which was dominated in equal measures by record temperatures and the seemingly endless political stalemate surrounding Brexit, a Christian Aid survey showed that a majority of Britons feel that climate change is a more important issue for the future of the country than Brexit, and two-thirds of the public feel that it should be the government’s top policy priority.

This Friday’s climate strike, which the University fully supports, is the latest expression of the public’s (and in particular the younger generation’s) anger and impatience with what is perceived as a lack of urgency in dealing with the causes of climate change.

The University of Bristol was the first British university to declare a Climate Emergency, and we have been taking a broad range of actions to ensure that we demonstrate real leadership in the university sector in responding to the climate crisis. This response will be overseen by our new Sustainability Council (which I will be chairing), composed of staff and student representatives,  which will hold its first meeting during the week of 23 September. The Council’s terms of reference and work plan will be made available to staff and students, and there will be opportunities for the University community to engage with and advise the Council throughout the year.

A significant amount of engagement with our student community is already under way, and specific discussions have been held with the Extinction Rebellion group to create a forum which will generate ideas, create agency for change and involve constituents across the University. One outcome is the upcoming ‘People’s Assembly’ scheduled from 1 to 4pm on 23 October. Further details will be circulated nearer the time.

Over the summer, over 900 staff members took part in our Be the Change’ initiative, and together saved an estimated 59 tonnes of CO2 by making behavioural changes that included travelling more sustainably and adjusting their consumption habits. During the course of the 2019/2020 academic year we will be working with all of our academic Schools in the development of School-specific climate action plans. The University has already allocated £5 million of expenditure for its Sustainable and Efficient Buildings programme, supporting low-energy lighting, greater efficiency in our laboratories and the use of renewable energy on our estate. In addition, the new BREEAM Plus environmental building standard will be applied to all our new projects.

Other key initiatives under way include the exploration of carbon offsetting opportunities and a critical review of our business travel behaviours. As someone who regularly travels overseas as part of my role, I will of course need to take a critical look at my own behaviour as an individual and as a leader within the University.

Throughout this process we are eager to share our experiences with the rest of the higher education sector both nationally and internationally, and recently our Head of Sustainability, Martin Wiles, held a webinar with 20 other universities explaining our decision to declare a climate emergency and outlining the steps that we are taking as a consequence.

Finally, as ever, a wide range of research groups across the University continue to progress hundreds of projects that have the potential to lead to a more sustainable future for all of us. Much of this activity falls under the auspices of our own Cabot Institute.

I encourage all of our staff and students to participate in the climate strike this Friday. Standing together in our resolve to see real change affected will put us in the strongest possible position to make a real contribution to the sustainability movement.


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…