Supporting Student Mental Wellbeing

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Supporting the mental wellbeing of students is a growing concern in higher education and among healthcare providers.

As Vice-Chancellor of one of the largest universities in the UK, with an increasingly diverse student population, and through my various leadership positions in the health sector – which has included chairing the Independent Reviews of Mental Health Related Homicides across the South West for the Strategic Health Authority – I am very familiar with the need for close integration between the health, social care, probation, education and university sectors.

We know that in the general population at least one in four people will experience a mental health problem in any one year and one in six adults have a mental health problem at any one time.

But beyond that, we also know that there are very particular circumstances that students face in a university environment, that for some, means they are more at risk. And this problem has been increasing in recent years. Reports in the sector suggest an increase in referrals and applications to well-being services of between 25 and 37% since last year. At UWE Bristol, this certainly matches the increase that we have been experiencing.

Why has it been increasing over recent years? Well this includes factors such as changes to the profile of the student population, with a more diverse make-up than it has ever had before. It also includes a reduction in financial support that can place an increasing pressure on students to seek part-time work, at the same time as an increased pressure to succeed. More generally, we have also seen higher rates of family breakdown and an economic recession that has hit hard on many young people.

The student population is also in some ways more vulnerable than other young people.

When they join university, they quickly have to adapt to new environments and new ways of learning.

There are also vulnerabilities beyond the individual. Disturbed behaviour by one young person (for example self-harm) can cause considerable distress and disruption to fellow students, particularly in halls of residence.

Universities clearly have legal, moral and practical reasons to provide support for students with mental health difficulties and we have a long history of providing student support, counselling and disability support.

Students are at a point in their life when their university experience is likely to hold the key to their future success. If they already have existing mental health difficulties, higher education could provide a new source of self-esteem and opportunities for engagement with peers and the wider society. Alternatively, underachievement or failure at this transitional stage in life can have long-term effects on self-esteem, and could affect the progress of someone’s future life.

Universities are about opportunities and it is important that all students are supported to succeed. However, this is at a time when the pressure on the public purse and public services is intense. How much can a university do to make up for this shortfall in the interests of its students? Clearly we need to be smart about this and take an integrated and effective approach.

We know there are important practical impediments to this, including restrictions on the transfer of confidential information between agencies. However, a number of models of collaborative working have been established across the country and we should look to and learn from these.

The UUK guidance ‘Student mental wellbeing in higher education: good practice guide’, launched last week and picked up by the Times Higher Education today, provides a great new resource. I was very pleased to give the key note address at this event, on what is a critical agenda – not just to individuals, but also to families and wider society.

Education for Sustainable Development

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I am very proud that today we are hosting the launch of the QAA and HEA guidance for higher education providers on Education for Sustainable Development.

Over the last 20 years UWE Bristol has developed policy, strategy and plans to address its environmental and sustainability impacts. We have of course covered the management of conventional impacts across our campuses – for example in relation to energy, waste and water etc… But clearly our biggest sustainability impact arises from the actions of our students, staff and graduates. 

As higher education providers we have a very important role in nurturing the leaders and citizens who will go on to shape the world around us. Our Strategy 2020 picks up this theme very clearly as we are working to ensure our ‘graduates are ready and able to realise their full potential, make a positive contribution to society and their chosen field of employment or further study, and play their full part in the development of a sustainable global society and knowledge economy.’

That is why we have really worked to embed Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) throughout the University. This is about the contribution that we can make to this agenda through our learning and teaching. 

A typical graduate has about 50 to 60 years of life expectancy post-graduation. The skills, knowledge and attributes that they develop at University will impact positively or negatively across their whole lifetime. 

A positive impact is much more likely if we can help our students to develop skills, knowledge, attributes and values, through their programmes of study, that really help them work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic wellbeing – both in the present and for future generations. That is what ESD is about at UWE Bristol and we are committed to providing opportunities for all our students to engage.

At our last review, 90% of our UK domiciled students engaged with the subject of sustainable development within the context of their discipline. In every Department of the University there are modules or programmes exposing students to some, or the entire context of, sustainable development.

Bristol’s year as European Green Capital in 2015 will also provide further opportunities for our students to put sustainability into practice.

It is not easy but we are on the journey and we are committed to pushing forward, thanks to the leadership of Professor Jim Longhurst and the work of the team and colleagues across the University.

Through ESD and our other university activities, we are shaping future generations and the impact they will go on to have on environmental, social and economic wellbeing across the globe.

Higher Apprenticeships – the role of universities

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The demand in our economy for high-level skills, to generate jobs and boost the UK’s global competitiveness, is in no doubt. We know that 80% of new jobs require skills at this level. This is well recognised by business leaders who are very clear about the real risk of major skills shortages across their sectors.

The question is do we have the right pathways to enable and inspire individuals to access and achieve these high-level skills?

As the recent McKinsey report, ‘Education to Employment‘, highlights, there is a lack of prestige and current ‘disorganisation’ associated with the vocational offer, across a variety of countries – not just the UK.

The economic and social imperative to address this is strong; and there is significant interest across the political parties and business organisations. Indeed, a recent article in the Economist has suggested this is leading to a ‘burst of innovation’ in vocational education.

Whilst it is great that we are applying our minds to this critical agenda, I would plea that we keep it simple and that we take a holistic approach – one that understands and maximises the value of the current offer. We need blended approaches, not separate and closed pathways, as we consider the best ways to meet the demand for high-level skills.

Today I was very pleased to speak at the Inside Government event on this topic, ‘The Future of Higher Apprenticeships 2014: Investing in Skills, Delivering Growth’, sharing our experiences in the development of Higher Apprenticeships at UWE Bristol. Higher Apprenticeships are certainly one of the ways we can work to meet the demand for high-level skills, albeit with a number of barriers to overcome, not least in terms of the investment needed from industry and challenges in terms of scalability and enabling SMEs to engage.

At UWE Bristol we have led on the development of Higher Apprenticeships in both Aerospace and Healthcare Science; as part of a successful £1.1m bid by the City of Bristol College to the Higher Apprenticeship Fund scheme in 2011. The reason the bid was successful was because we were able to offer significant expertise in this form of learning and the subject areas, a history of working in partnership across Higher and Further Education, and with employers, and the clear mapping of the proposals to the needs of the region.

At UWE Bristol we already have an extensive range of connections and networks with employers in our region and beyond, particularly with SMEs – who are absolutely at the heart of growth in the UK. For example, leading regional innovation networks, in Biosciences, Microelectronics, Green Technologies and the Creative Industries; and leading on one of four government funded ‘University Enterprise Zones’, in robotics, biosciences, biomedicine and other high tech areas, working with the Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Bristol.

We already work with employers, and our own careers consultants, on the design of our academic programmes and opportunities, and have a number of programmes that are co-run with industry professionals – for example with the BBC in film making and broadcast production.

Last year we launched a new BA Business (Team Entrepreneurship), where running a real business drives the students’ learning, as they set-up and run their own team company that will earn money finding, and completing, real projects for real organisations. This has really engaged a group of highly talented students; some of whom would not have chosen to go to University based on the standard format of more traditional degrees.

We also have a very well established Work-Based Learning framework –which is of course key to Higher Apprenticeships.

All of this means we were well placed to get engaged with Higher Apprenticeships, and it also means we are clear about how this involvement feeds back into our broader strategy as a University – which of course is absolutely critical to success.

Earlier in the year the Times Higher Education ran a headline, ‘Universities risk missing out on higher apprenticeships’, with Higher Apprenticeships being a potential means ‘by which high-level skills are delivered to the workforce without any involvement by universities’.

Our belief and experience at UWE Bristol is that, as a University, we have an essential role in the development and delivery of Higher Apprenticeships. It is very important for young people that their qualifications are nationally and internationally recognized – the qualification is not an end point in itself but must open doors. Being associated with the global reputation of a trusted university is a real asset here.

Universities also have a clear role in working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and intermediaries to ensure that the learning is transferable, beyond immediate employer needs; tackling the tensions that sometimes exist, between transferable skills and learning, and those specific to the particular employer.

In Bristol, we have the second lowest participation rate in higher education in the country. Yet, our graduates from UWE Bristol achieve some of the highest rates of employment in the country. The value of higher education and high-level skills is clear. As we look at the best ways to meet the demand for high-level skills, it is critical that policy makers keep it simple and maximise the value of the current offer. Making pathways accessible and attractive, and blending approaches to learning and work, is essential if we are to address this social unjust – regionally and nationally.

My full speech, ‘The Role of Universities in Facilitating Higher Apprenticeships’ is available here.

The Entrepreneurial University

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Excellent inaugural lecture last night by UWE Bristol’s Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, who I am very pleased to welcome to the University.

Dylan explored questions such as what it means to be an entrepreneurial university, what are the main barriers and how can we do more to nurture the enterprising and entrepreneurial graduates that are critical to our country’s economic growth and social development.

With the majority of new jobs being created by companies under five years old, we can see why this is so important. But this isn’t just about creating entrepreneurs – it is much bigger than that. It is about nurturing an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’. We know that graduates are entering a rapidly changing world, where technologies beyond our current imagination, are creating jobs that we have not even thought of yet. In this environment, all graduates will need to demonstrate the enterprising attributes that Dylan spoke of – such as being action-oriented, persistent, self-determined and agile.

This is a key part of UWE Bristol’s Strategy 2020 and what it means to be a UWE Bristol graduate. Making this the lived experience for all our students is a major priority for this University.

I look forward to working with Dylan, colleagues across the University, businesses and organisations as we really drive the enterprise agenda forward, from what is a very strong base. Our innovation networks have already supported over 700 SMEs, the Graduate Talent West portal provides access to our 6,000 graduates each year (led by UWE Bristol with Business West, the LEP and other universities in the region), we run one of the largest paid internship programmes in the country, and 47% of our expenditure is with SMEs (above the government’s target of 25% for the public sector).

As Dylan stressed, this isn’t about universities working on their own. It is about universities working with businesses, local and regional organisations, and policy makers to create the experiences and rich environments where ideas and innovations can flourish.

Today, I am very pleased to say we have moved a major step further, winning funding to set up one of four ‘University Enterprise Zones’ to be supported by BIS, providing a business ‘hatchery’, incubation and grow on space for businesses specialised in robotics, biosciences, biomedicine and other high tech areas. The Zone is expected to generate over 500 new jobs, and more than £50m for the local economy.  It has been developed in collaboration with the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Bristol with strong support from South Gloucestershire Council, the University of Bath and the West of England Academic Heath Science Network. 

The world we are living in is changing a pace. Collaboration, enterprise and an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ are essential – and right at the forefront of our thinking at UWE Bristol.

Strategy 2020 – one year on

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One year on from the launch of our Strategy 2020 and this week I have been out at each of our main campuses discussing the strong progress we have made, our external challenges and opportunities, and our priorities for the next year and beyond.

It was great to reflect with colleagues on our new UWE film, the experiences of our students, and how excited, confident and proud our students are of this University and the opportunities and inspirational environment our colleagues create.

I continue to be impressed by the passion, commitment and innovations of colleagues across the University, supporting our collective ambitions and challenging us and each other to really driving these forward. Our colleagues and students give me huge confidence in the future. UWE Bristol is a great place to work and learn, we have had a very successful academic year and we are investing confidently in our people, estate and infrastructure.

The most important investment we can make

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Investment in education is the most important investment we can make.

That was one of the main messages delivered by John Cridland CBE, Director-General of the CBI, at our annual Bolland lecture this week.

He also stressed the importance of business-university collaborations, suggesting it should be natural for any business to ‘twin’ with its university, praising UWE Bristol’s achievements as an entrepreneurial university.

He was particularly impressed with the calibre of our students on our BA Business (Team Entrepreneurship) and the innovative approach we have taken, which sees students learn by setting-up and running their own team company that will earn money finding and completing real projects for real organisations. Students from the programme have already been to the Houses of Parliament twice in the last four months, invited to provide evidence to government on future leaders and entrepreneurship.

Only last month, we saw our entrepreneurial students launch a crowdfunding campaign to bring to market an innovative 3D printer accessory. OmniDynamics smashed their target on kickstarter in less than 24 hours and have attracted some serious coverage in the technology world.

We also discussed our strong engagement with the thriving SME sector in the Bristol city region, through leading regional innovation networks in key growth sectors, running our £4m innovation for growth programme, and of course through the placements, project work, internships, and the highly skilled talent pipeline our students provide. UWE Bristol already has one of the largest paid internship programmes in the higher education sector – run largely with SMEs – we offer Enterprise Internships to support our students to become the entrepreneurs of the future, and earlier this month we launched our Green Internships which will help businesses to develop green policies and practices. Many of these initiatives are thanks to our award winning Employability and Enterprise Service, which was recognised earlier this year as the best in the sector at the NUE awards.  

Our plans for the future are ambitious. Earlier this month we were one of only 20 universities in the UK to be awarded the Small Business Charter, which not only recognises the enormous amount of work we already do with small businesses in the region, but also means that we can access funds to increase our support for business growth.

But most importantly, UWE Bristol boasts one of the most impressive employment records in the higher education sector, being recognised by the Telegraph as one of the top 8 universities to go to for getting a job. That means working successfully with employers and business to widen the reach of transformational opportunities to maximise the potential of individuals, so they can realise their ambitions – as business leader, entrepreneur, practitioner and professional – which of course also brings huge benefits right across our society.

Claiming the global technology university space

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Alliance universities are all excellent global institutions, but they are often better understood and recognised for their excellence in many global markets than they are in our own domestic context.

Yes we all have deep roots in our cities and regions, recognised for our massive economic and social contribution. But in the UK our strengths do not always shine through in the national public consciousness. 

Everywhere else in the world our universities would be recognised as part of an elite group of highly regarded technological universities that sit alongside the traditional research-intensives. The Australian Technology Network of universities, who the University Alliance are partnered with, sit prominently alongside the Group of 8 (the Australian Russell Group equivalent) as a positive alternative choice to the more traditional university. Similarly there is a prestigious group of technological universities in the States such as MIT or CalTech, there are the Indian Institutes of Technology, and the many other elite technological institutions in HE sectors around the world.  For all sorts of reasons, and largely because of the problem we have with the term ‘technical’ or even ‘technology’ in this country, we do not have such a group here in the UK. But we could, and in my view we should.

This has already become how Alliance universities market themselves abroad. Now is our time to collectively challenge the market in the UK. Traditional universities do not have the monopoly on all the leading courses and research in the UK. 

I believe we need to adopt a profile that boldly identifies Alliance universities as Global Technology Universities, specializing in technology, applied science, design and the professions. We need to take ownership of this gap in the market.

This was the view I shared at the University Alliance Summit held at University of Greenwich today. There was significant energy around this idea and the benefits this positioning would bring for our universities and the students and publics that we serve.

We are being ambitious as we set out a vision for the next few years, where University Alliance is not just recognised as a strong, leading voice for our universities but as a group of outstanding universities that offer an excellent and ‘first choice’ alternative in the global market.

Fostering student innovation and entrepreneurship

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What role do universities play in fostering student innovation and entrepreneurship? That was one of the questions posed to our panel today at the annual Guardian Forum event. This is a critical agenda – our capacity for innovation will be key to our overall competitiveness and productivity in the UK, as much of the Western world enters into a period of economic recovery. 

We already know that 80% of new jobs are in high-skill areas, placing universities and our graduates at the heart of the future workforce.

But, it will be the innovation and enterprise aptitude of our graduates that will be most central to the UK’s success. It will be how we exploit new technologies – such as graphene, composite materials, or the use of robotics – that will determine our future.

This is one area where there is a clear cross-party consensus! But we need to push this further – to ensure that our ideas of a successful graduate outcome, and those of the government and the public, are not constrained to securing a traditional ‘graduate job’.

Clearly as a sector, there is a differing emphasis placed on this across universities. And there are a variety of interesting ideas out there that will be more relevant or practical to some institutions rather than others – such as having a venture capital fund to invest in student start-ups, or using crowd-sourcing technology to engage partners and identify where to invest.

At UWE Bristol we are ideally placed as a regional hub for innovation and enterprise. We are located in a thriving and ambitious city-region, with a LEP that has been credited as the best in the country.

Whilst many universities can point to incubator spaces, enterprise internships and funding, student enterprise societies (at UWE Bristol – UWE InnovEnters and Enactus), workshops and masterclasses, and one-to-one advice, it is in embedding enterprise activity into the curriculum where the real wins can be made.

This year at UWE Bristol we introduced an exceptionally innovative new programme – Business (Team Entrepreneurship) – which challenges traditional ideas about a degree. Students work in a high-tech hub rather than a classroom, they have coaching sessions and workshops rather than compulsory lectures – and it is running a real business that drives the students’ learning.

The students love the programme. It has inspired and engaged those that might have previously been put off by the traditional format of many university courses. And already, some of our students have been to parliament to contribute to a report on future leaders and entrepreneurship. This is a great model that we are learning from across the University.

Indeed, I think it prompts us all to consider how we best foster the entrepreneurial spirit in our students – after all they are the leaders and shapers of the future.

Tardis arrives!

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Today we welcomed the arrival a 20 foot TARDIS-like container to our Frenchay Campus. The container houses the prototype for a novel water treatment system that has the capacity to revolutionise the lives of people across the globe by providing access to clean drinking water at source.

The container will now undergo final tests before being transported to Eastern Europe where it will be tested in situ. Following these tests the aim is for the containers to go into mass production.

In this film Professor Darren Reynolds explains how the system works.

This work being conducted by Professor Darren Reynold’s team and our partners, Portsmouth Aviation, Pentair and Bridge Biotechnology is world class. This is science for the real world, addressing urgent problems through positive partnership working. It is about fixing something critical right now and transforming lives. We are immensely proud of this work – it is showcasing UWE Bristol at the top of its game.