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Review of the Year: 12 months to remember for the University of Sunderland

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Published on 09 December 2019

It's been a big year for the University of Sunderland
It's been a big year for the University of Sunderland

From a new School of Medicine to the biggest financial donation in its history, it’s been a busy 12 months for the University of Sunderland.

As we prepare to say goodbye to 2019, we take a look back at the key events of the past 12 months and find out why the University is stronger and more successful than ever.



Welcoming new Professor of Anatomy:

A new year meant a fresh start as we said ‘hello’ to the School of Medicine’s latest signing – Sunderland academic, Professor Debs Patten.

After years honing her unique skills in different parts of the country, Debs returned to her Wearside roots to join our new medical school team.

It was an opportunity she had dreamed of; the chance to be part of a pioneering new School that aims to educate, support and change the lives of students.

But, more than that, it also offers Debs the chance to give something back. Like her, many of the incoming new medics will come from diverse, non-traditional backgrounds.

In fact, Debs knows the hurdles students, who perhaps do not fit the ‘classic’ medical school criteria, face. Growing up in Ryhope, she attended St Patrick’s Primary School in the village before heading to St Anthony’s Girls’ School in the heart of the


Education boss helping attract teachers

This month saw the Department for Education publish their much-awaited Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy in response to concerns over workloads.

Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, has been playing a key role in creating a new model in teacher training.

As part of the MillionPlus Deans of Education Network, Lynne has been closely involved with the development of Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) reforms.

Lynne helped to propose a new model for Teacher Training which closely links the Early Career Framework to Masters level study and qualifications.


 £1.3million boost for business leaders of the future

The University launched a new project worth more than £1.3million this month to help student and graduate entrepreneurs turn their business dreams into reality.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) scheme at the University’s Enterprise Place aimed to expand on the many success stories from their previous projects that ran from 2015 until 2018.

The Enterprise Place acts as the perfect environment for students, graduates and staff of the University to start their own business, bringing together budding entrepreneurs at all stages of their development and providing free hot-desking space, business advice, structured interactive workshops, up to £1,000 of funding as well as PR and networking opportunities.


Five years in vogue for Fashion North

The popular fashion and beauty website, created and run by students studying Fashion Journalism at the University celebrated a milestone.

Launched back in December 2013, with the full online launch in January 2014, the site is playing a key role in helping students break into the highly competitive fashion world.

Five years on, it remains a force to be reckoned with videos, podcasts and content, helping set the fashion agenda.


New visiting professor welcomed

This month, one of the UK’s most prolific weight-loss surgeons was honoured by the University of Sunderland.

Kamal Mahawar is passionate about the North East and the people who live here.

Besides from his birthplace of Kolkata in India, the Sunderland Royal Hospital consultant has spent more time living in the region more than any other place in the world.

One of the UK’s leading bariatric surgeons, he has now been given the honorary title of Visiting Professor at the University of Sunderland.


Exclusive partnership signed with aircraft giant

A world-leading airport passenger and cargo service announced an exclusive partnership with the University in January.

Swissport International Ltd, a global leader in airport passenger ground services, ground and air cargo service, are now playing a key role in supporting students seeking careers in the aviation sector.

The Tourism, Hospitality and Events department became a member of the Swissport Academy which will provide exclusive graduate recruitment opportunities for the University’s students.



Students immerse themselves in cold water therapy

It wasn’t what you might expect to see on a cold February morning – six students jumping into the North Sea.

But this wasn’t just some random winter dip, but rather the group were taking part in Cold Water Immersion, a therapy which aims to offer the brave participants a whole host of health benefits.

Everything from anxiety and depression to muscle repair and happiness levels can apparently benefit from a freezing adventure.

So this group of hardy students from the University were keen to take part in the first immersion therapy session held at Roker Beach in Sunderland during February.

The scheme proved so successful it was repeated several times throughout 2019.


Meet miracle Linzi

This is the month we met University student Linzi Saunders.

In the 21 years of her life, Linzi has had her life saved three times thanks to transplant surgery.

Struck down by leukaemia aged 18-months, doctors gave her just a 40% chance of survival.

Twenty years on, the Fine Art student nominated fellow student and close friend Kevin Rudkin for a Rate Your Mate award. The awards aim to shine a light on hard working students who go above and beyond in their studies, life and work while at the University.

Linzi’s remarkable story starts not long after she was born. Diagnosed with two different complex types of leukaemia, medics decided they had no option but to try new research medication, with Linzi becoming the first patient to undergo this type of treatment.

It was then decided that a bone marrow transplant would be needed and all Linzi’s family were tested to see if they would be possible donors.

Her brother, James, proved a perfect match but, despite a successful transplant, the new treatment Linzi was receiving began affecting her heart and she went on to develop cardiomyopathy by the age of eight.

It was a condition doctors could not ignore and while still a pupil at Ryhope Junior School in Sunderland, Linzi was told she would need a new heart.

Put onto the NHS Organ Donor Register, she waited five weeks before being told that a donor heart had been found.


Our nurses are the best

This month we discovered the University had been nominated for two prestigious national awards.

We were shortlisted at this year’s Student Nursing Times Awards for Nurse Education provider of the Year (Pre-reg) and for Partnership of the Year.

The Awards celebrate the very best in nurse education, recognises and rewards brilliant educational establishments and honours those who are committed to developing new nursing talent.


New face

Professor Jon Timmis was appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor (Commercial) at the University.

He is looking after marketing, recruitment, and communications among many other roles as part of his remit.


Culture coup

Arts leaders this month praised Sunderland for its innovative partnership approach to culture-led regeneration.

The Cultural Cities Enquiry describes Sunderland as a pioneer of culture partnerships and urges other areas to learn from the setting up of Sunderland Culture.



New key role at University announced

One of the region’s leading consultants in elderly medicine and a much-loved mentor to dozens of junior doctors for almost two decades started a new role at the University’s School of Medicine.

Dr Andy Davies who also heads up the Falls and Syncope Service and is a consultant in elderly medicine at Sunderland Royal Hospital, was appointed Undergraduate Programme Lead by the University.

In this role, Dr Davies leads on delivering the underpinning principles of the new school.

Dr Davies has been involved in teaching and training since 1997 and is regional Foundation Programme Director with responsibility for doctors with differing needs across all the nine acute trusts in the North East and Cumbria.


Girl power

Women rule the school at the University of Sunderland and they proved that on International Women’s Day.

We asked a selection of our leading female experts to share their views.

And we weren’t short of academics to talk to.

Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society; Debs Patten, Professor of Anatomy at the new School of Medicine; Professor Arabella Plouviez, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries; Angela Smith, Professor of Language and Culture; Clarissa Smith, Professor of Sexual Cultures; and Alumni Achiever of 2018 and University of Sunderland Lecturer in Illustration Holly Sterling, were all happy to share their experiences.


University professor on why we love bad TV

This month Professor Angela Smith discussed the issue of 21st century reality television in her book Belligerent Broadcasting.

From The Jeremy Kyle Show to Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares; from The Apprentice USA to Dragons’ Den, all these programmes possess the ‘in-your-face’ factor designed to provoke and entertain, according to Angela.

The professor’s expertise on broadcasting would make international headlines later in the year when she discussed the demise of the Jeremy Kyle Show with media from across the world.


Pioneering research wins funding from Google

A pioneering app that aims to tackle abuse on social media won funding from search engine giant Google during March.

Academics from the University received the money to help towards the SMART – Social Media Abuse Research Tool – project which aimed to support journalists investigating online hate speech.

The project is a collaboration between journalism and computing specialists at the University. They will make a prototype app that will be usable by journalists who have little or no knowledge of coding or programming.

The app will allow users to filter and locate abusive social media posts according to time-frames, types of abuse, and various other factors.

Last year, University research played a key role in revealing how high-profile Tory women were targeted for more sexist abuse on Twitter than their Labour counterparts, during the 2017 General Election.

The research found 93% of the misogynistic tweets sent to frontbench female politicians during the campaign were directed at Conservatives - mainly then Prime Minister, Theresa May.


Government minister praises University

Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary for the Department of Education, paid a visit to the University in March where he heard inspiring student stories.

Mr Slater spent time with staff, as well as current and former students during a flying visit to the University’s Helen McArdle House.

The education boss later said: “It was inspiring to hear from students about the support they get from the University to genuinely achieve their potential.”

As well as University Vice Chancellor Sir David Bell, Mr Slater met those who had transformed their lives through programmes they are taking – or have taken.


Vice Chancellor’s Hong Kong visit

We revealed there were more than 4,500 students worldwide studying for a UoS qualification.

The figures came as the University’s Vice Chancellor, Sir David Bell, travelled thousands of miles for his first visit to the institution’s Hong Kong campus.

Sir David said: “Our Hong Kong campus has nearly 600 part-time students studying there. We offer a wide variety of programmes, usually to people in work who want to enhance their job prospects. Our location in the business district puts us in an excellent position to respond to the changing needs and demands of both employers and employees.”

Two years ago the University’s international footprint took a big step forward when it launched the Hong Kong campus.


Celebrating success in London

This month we saw hundreds of students from our London Campus celebrating graduation success.

More than 400 guests were invited to the Hilton Hotel, Marsh Wall South Quay Square, London, to witness friends and family celebrating one of the biggest days of their lives.

The University’s Vice Chancellor, Sir David Bell gave a special message ahead of the celebrations.

He said: “I know how much students in London are really enthusiastic about the University and I know this is going to be a great celebration, a happy day for everyone.”

The Academic Awards saw 228 students graduating.


Life changing research

A rare disease of the jaw which can lead to reconstructive surgery could be prevented if healthcare professionals improve their communication, research at the University found this month.

Lead researcher Andrew Sturrock, Principal Lecturer and Programme Leader for the Master of Pharmacy programme at the University has been heading the researchers.

Osteonecrosis, which means death of bone tissue, can develop in the jaw following certain dental procedures, such as tooth extractions, in some patients who are prescribed certain medicines, known as bisphosphonates, for the treatment of osteoporosis and cancer.

 A team of researchers at the University carried out a study into the disease, and the impact it had on patients’ lives, funded by Pharmacy Research UK and a UK Clinical Pharmacy Association Clinical Research Grant.



Special access gives students a unique view of engineering

A rare opportunity was offered to University of Sunderland students when they paid a visit to Kielder Reservoir in Northumberland.

The group of 11 engineering students were given special access to the dam at Kielder by Northumbrian Water so they could learn more about the operational aspects of the facility.

The undergraduates met with staff from the water company who explained the workings of the facility including how the 70m tall valve tower, which is sited in the middle of the Reservoir, controls the flow of water from the dam into the nearby North Tyne.


Hope Street Xchange brings jobs hope

It was revealed this month that the University’s Hope Street Xchange has exceeded expectation, smashing yearly growth targets set by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

In their yearly gross jobs figures, the £10m Centre for Enterprise and Innovation surpassed forecasted figures by 233%, boasting 121 jobs connected to the intervention, as well as 56 new businesses trading from the area – more than double the proposed number. 

The University’s Hope Street Xchange received £4.9million from the Local Growth Fund and a further £2.23 million from the European Regional Development Fund, with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) therefore setting targets in a bid to promote development within the city.


Student’s work goes viral

This month artist Kathryn Robertson was the talk of Sunderland.

The 24-year-old’s work hit the headlines when a tea towel featuring one of her designs was photographed at exotic locations around the world by traveller Helen Wilson.

In April, the student unveiled a Mackem mural in the University’s Priestman Building. Buildings in the city which often go unnoticed, such as the Elephant Tea Rooms, as well as lost buildings such as The Grand Hotel and Vaux, feature in the piece, alongside more well-known landmarks such as Wearmouth Buildings and the trio of distinctive high rise flats at The Bridges.


North East ink

The multi-faceted role of the tattoo artist was put under the microscope for one PhD student who is turning his passion into a career.

Adam McDade is combining working in a North East tattoo studio with research into the production and design of the art he creates on people’s bodies.

Adam, 29, is himself no stranger to tattoos, having much of his own body covered with ink.

“I’ve now got tattoos on my feet, ankles, legs, calves, thighs, chest, arms, hands and fingers.

Adam himself has been tattooing other people professionally for the past 14 months at Triplesix studios in Fawcett Street, Sunderland; experience which he is now using as research for his PhD.




City by the Sea inspires artists

Artists from the University have played a key role in a new city centre exhibition called City by the Sea.

The project brought together University creatives, local and regional painters, and schools, to produce an exhibit which celebrates the opening of The Beam, the first new development on the Vaux site.

The artworks have been produced on surfboards which will be displayed on the site.

Academics and students from the University have contributed their talents to help produce five of the surfboards.


Goodbye Steve, and hello Emeli

This month we said goodbye to Steve Cram who announced he was stepping down as Chancellor of the University after 11 years in the role.

During his time as Chancellor, Steve officiated at more than 100 graduation ceremonies and personally congratulated over 30,000 students as they crossed the stage at the Stadium of Light to receive their academic awards.

In the same month we said hello to multi-platinum selling singer and songwriter Emeli Sandé MBE, who was announced as the new Chancellor.

Emeli’s parents, Diane and Joel, studied together at Sunderland in the 1980s and Emeli was born in the city in 1987.


We are among the world’s best lifesavers

The University was named as one of the ‘Nation’s Lifesavers’ thanks to its high-level of paramedic training.

The Nation’s Lifesavers are the top 100 individuals or groups based in universities across the country whose work in saving lives and making a difference to health and wellbeing is proving successful.

Mark Willis, Programme Leader for Paramedic Science and Out of Hospital Care at the University of Sunderland, said: “This accolade shows the significant dedication of the staff, students and placement partners at the University in developing a highly skilled, patient-centred workforce of the future.”



Nursing nomination for keeping the North East healthy

A University of partnership is nominated for Student Nursing Times Award.

Promoting Equity in Physical Health Screening - a collaborative initiative between the University of Sunderland, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) - was nominated in the Learning Disabilities Nursing category.


We meet the country’s youngest graduates

A special graduation ceremony was held at St Mary’s Childcare Centre, the University’s on-site nursery for children as young as three, where each child wore a traditional gown and their proud parents were out in force to take pictures to remember the big day.

On hand to pass out the graduation certificates was Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University, attending his first ‘mini-grad’ ceremony.


Green light for School of Medicine

Sunderland’s first School of Medicine is given the official ‘green light’ after a team from the General Medical Council reviewed the University’s preparations.

The visit from the GMC – the public body that maintains the official register of medical practitioners in the UK – came as final plans were put in place ahead of September’s official opening.


Meet the Honorary graduates for 2019

The University announced the five distinguished figures who would receive honorary awards at the summer graduations.

They are: Martin Longstaff (singer, songwriter and teacher), The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley (Bishop of Ripon), Darren Henley OBE (Chief Executive, Arts Council England), Mitch Mitchell MBE QVS (Major General in the British Army), Nadine Shah (singer, songwriter and campaigner).



BIG-time success for students at RTS Awards

Students picked up three national awards for outstanding film-making at a ceremony in London.

Ciaran Charles, the writer and director of the coming-of-age film Smoked Mackerel, accepted two awards for Best Postgraduate Drama and Best Writer.

Connor Langley, Michael Rowlands, Mark Hunter and Jack Jarvis scooped the prize for Postgraduate Comedy and Entertainment for their film A Very Uncommon Christmas, which features a zombie robbery.

The three awards were among 11 handed out to post-graduate film-makers as part of the prestigious Royal Television Society Student Awards.


Emeli Sande installed as Chancellor

On a special summer’s day, the singer took to the stage at the University’s Academic Award ceremonies to present her own parents with their official graduation certificate.

Dad Joel and mum Diane were unable to collect their certificates after they graduated in 1987, due to the birth of their daughter.

Emeli would go on to congratulate hundreds of graduating students as she presented them with their honours at the Stadium of Light during our annual graduations.


Nursing Milestone

After three years of dedicated training and hard work, Sunderland’s first intake of home-grown nurses graduate at the summer Academic Awards.

The 17 nurses stepped onto the stage to collect their degrees before they all started their careers in the NHS.



Father and son witness University milestones

Student teacher Neil Coram witnessed a first when he was at Sunderland in 1992 – the polytechnic changing into the city’s first University.

Fast-forward 27 years.

Neil’s son Arran was this summer preparing for his own university first – becoming one of the initial students on Sunderland’s new Physiotherapy degree.

The father and son arrived at the University as one relived halcyon days, while the other prepared for a new chapter in his life.


University research leads to plaque unveiling

A plaque commemorating Sunderland’s first woman MP, Marion Phillips, is revealed thanks to a University lecturer’s research.

Little was known about Labour Party politician Phillips, who held her seat in the city between 1929 and 1931.

Dr Sarah Hellawell, Lecturer in Modern British History, campaigned for the commemoration for Phillips which would see a Blue Heritage plaque unveiled in Sunderland city centre.


Multimillion-pound investment

This month saw the reopening of the University’s new Gateway complex at City Campus.

The multi-million pound transformation saw the ground floor redesigned with a new entrance, reception, café and one-stop Gateway shop which caters for all students’ needs.



Philanthropist’s donation is biggest ever

Helen McArdle CBE donates £2.5m to the University of Sunderland - the largest contribution ever received by the higher education institution.

It was announced that the multi-million pound partnership with the philanthropist and entrepreneur will benefit teaching and research in nursing and care.

The University’s Shackleton House building was then re-named Helen McArdle House in recognition of this extraordinary gift.


Watershed moment in history of University as medical school opens

The University welcomed its first medical students as the doors opened on its new School of Medicine.

The School saw 51 students arrive as they embarked on their journey to become a qualified doctor.

With state-of-the-art facilities already in place and dedicated partnerships with the region’s NHS trusts, the opening allows the University to offer 360° healthcare via its graduating students.


New £600,000 University Enterprise Zone announced

New Government funding announced this month will help the University stimulate growth and bring jobs to the North East.

The £600,000 will help create the first ever University Enterprise Zone in Sunderland, aiming to strengthen collaborative ties between higher education and businesses in the region.

The aim is to help small businesses and start-ups to succeed by providing access to space for them to grow, as well as specialist facilities and expertise.


University research into minimum alcohol pricing

A University expert advised that the North East should follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a minimum pricing policy on alcohol.

It came as a report published in the BMJ suggested the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland appeared to have been successful in reducing the amount of alcohol purchased and consumed.

With the North East suffering similar levels of harm from alcohol, an accompanying invited editorial by John Mooney, a senior lecturer in Public Health at the University, suggested the region’s health could significantly benefit from a similar MUP implementation.



Paralympian poster-boy revealed as honorary graduate

Paralympian and North East sportsman Josef Craig will receive an honorary graduate award during winter graduations, it was annouced.

Josef also took to the opportunity to reveal how depression and anxiety had plagued his life.

Speaking out on World Mental Health Day, Josef told how he hopes his story will help others suffering in silence.

Josef became one of the region’s most celebrated athletes after his London 2012 success saw him become Team GB’s youngest 2012 gold medal winner.


University to host prestigious journalism conference

The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) announce their flagship event, the Journalism Skills Conference, will be held at Sunderland next month.

The event brings together educators and employers from across the UK to discuss the latest developments in the industry, and journalism education and training.


Happy Birthday Spark

Celebrations were in full swing to mark the 10th birthday of University student radio station, Spark.

Over the years, the station has proved the perfect training ground for some of the UK’s most successful radio presenters and producers.

From BBC Radio 1’s Jordan North to BBC Radio 2 producer Sarah Harrison, Spark has helped a catalogue of talent get a foot onto the broadcasting ladder.



One for the boys

The University marked International Men’s Day this month by quizzing a range of men from across the institution.

Among all the talk of toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes, we asked a selection of men just what being a male in 2019 really means.

Those questioned included academics, students, life coaches and chaplains.


Stadium of success

This month we celebrated out annual winter Academic Award.

Almost 2,000 students, friends and family celebrated graduation success at the Stadium of Light.

Among those who received Honorary Fellowships at this year’s Awards are the UK’s former Paralympian star Josef Craig and public health pioneer Jackie Nixon.


Conference honour

The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Skills Conference was held at the University for this first time.

The two day event also saw the NCT Skills Conferenced Awards for Excellence take place with Sunderland’s own students taking some of the honours.

Journalism graduate Mariam Kattab won in the features category. The awards are open to students, trainees and apprentices in news, sports, top scoop, features and multimedia categories.



First ever Pro-Chancellors announcement

We were thrilled to announce that Margaret Fay, Deputy Chair of our Board of Governors and Alastair Stewart, journalist and ITN newscaster, had agreed to become the University’s first-ever Pro-Chancellors.

In their role as Pro-Chancellors, Margaret and Alastair will support the Chancellor, Emeli Sandé, by attending events and officiating at some of the University’s graduation ceremonies in Sunderland and London. 

Both great supporters of the University and our ‘life-changing’ mission, Margaret and Alastair will be installed as Pro-Chancellors in 2020.


Elite athlete eyes up World Championships

To close off the year, we celebrated the success of one of our Elite Athletes, Cameron Park.

The 22 year old Sport and Exercise Sciences student has been training in the martial art for a decade.

Now Cameron, already a member of the University’s Elite Athlete Scheme, has his sights firmly set on the World Championships in Denmark next year after picking up silver in last month’s British National Championships.