Campus is returning to life as more and more students are returning for semester two. On Sunday morning, nearly 500 students and members of staff joined the 5km fun run and it was genuinely lovely to see so many people back here. The run was part of the UoBe Festival, which has had a wide range of activities and performances in Chancellor’s Court and the Great Hall – continuing to the end of today with fairground rides, activities and street food. If you’re on campus, do join in – the rides, at least, are free (and noisy). Huge thanks to Kelly Hamilton and her team for organising the festival: at the time of writing there have been over 10,000 sign ups to the activities and student feedback is extremely positive. The festival is just one of a series of activities that are available to our students and this week also saw the launch of the Vice Chancellor’s Challenge. During the Challenge, interdisciplinary groups of students work on developing practical solutions to global problems and this year we’ve themed them around the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing them develop over the coming months.
This week has seen both local and national politicians visit campus. I talked with the leaders of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council on Tuesday and was really pleased to hear how much they value the ways that we contribute to the life of the city and how they see the University as essential to the future of Birmingham and the West Midlands. I’m committed to playing my own small part in this. I wasn’t, though, the main attraction: they had really come to learn more about some of the work being done here on sustainability and, in particular, on air quality.
On Monday, Wes Streeting, Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Care joined the MP for Edgbaston, Preet Gill, on a visit to the Medical School and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. I learned as much as our visitors did about the extraordinary way that academics and clinicians worked together from the very outset of the pandemic, both to improve immediate patient care and to understand and tackle coronavirus. Our local hospital trust has had more Covid patients than any other in Europe, partly because it is so big but partly because vaccine hesitancy and socio-economic disadvantage have been a fatal combination. If there is anything good to have come out of the numerous tragedies of the last two years, it is the proof that long-established close working relationships and outstanding expertise could spring into action for the public good.
This is, of course, a university full of talented researchers. We’ve heard recently that a multi-disciplinary team have won UKRI funding to examine ageing as part of multidisciplinary networks - Leigh Breen, Carolyn Greig, Janet Lord, Dan Tennant, and Niharika Duggal. Matt Nicholl has won this year’s Royal Astronomical Society Fowler Award, for making transformative breakthroughs in our understanding of new, rare, and extreme astronomical transients - objects that exist from milliseconds to several years. Congratulations to them all.
Emma Kendrick and her PhD student Kieran O’Regan have just launched a new spin-out company that aims to speed up battery prototype development. Emma was one of an outstanding cross-section of academics I met this week from across the Colleges who are embarking on the ‘Research Leaders’ programme in People and Organisational Development. The session I joined was engaging and fun – unsurprisingly, some people had suggestions as to how we can support research more effectively, but there were also many very positive observations about here. As I’ve said in a previous message, the challenge for us is to make Birmingham the most stimulating and exciting place to be for researchers, for educators and for professional and support staff.
You might already know that we are organising the Forum for Global Challenges, which will take place at the ICC between 3-5 May, in collaboration with the World Bank, UNESCO, West Midlands Combined Authority and aligned to the Birmingham2022 Games. This will bring together some of the world’s most influential thinkers and doers from academic, business and political spheres, to share and generate real-world solutions to some of the most pressing global challenges – climate change and inequality. It will be an important opportunity for our staff to showcase the amazing work that we do in tackling these ‘wicked problems’, so please do submit your abstracts (deadline 7th Feb 2022). There are also lots of exciting opportunities for our students to participate – especially in the Global Youth Hackathon, and as rapporteurs, reporters, or curators of the ‘My solutions’ public engagement campaign.
Finally, teaching will resume in full next week and it will be good to see our community coming back to campus, however, I know that for some people this may bring mixed emotions. As I mentioned last week, while Covid cases remain quite high, we will be strongly encouraging, and providing, face masks and other covid-safe practices. The Department for Education’s guidelines to universities are, however, clear that we are not allowed to require the wearing of face coverings. If your doctor has told you that you are clinically extremely vulnerable, please talk to your line manager who will be pleased to support you.
Happy Chinese New Year to those of you celebrating over the next week, and best wishes for a happy and healthy Year of the Tiger.