Each Tuesday, the members of UEB, heads of schools and college office holders, Professional Services directors, deputy PVCs and holders of other senior roles meet for an hour to discuss University news and sector developments. This week, we welcomed Colin Townsend, Principal of the University of Birmingham School, to give an update on the School’s remarkable achievements since it opened. The School is in its eighth year, and has become one of the most popular in Birmingham and a real asset to our city. The University of Birmingham School is like no other university affiliated school in the UK. Although, like the others, we are committed to excellent outcomes, its very design has baked-in a commitment to fairness and equity. The School admits students in Year 7 from three catchment areas – one of which is local to Selly Park and the other two are in less privileged parts of Birmingham. The School has a significantly higher proportion of students who are eligible for free school meals and the pupil premium than the national or local average and similarly high proportions of students who have been in care or who have special educational needs. Despite this, the School achieves exceptional educational and social outcomes through providing a genuinely comprehensive education (other than students with very particular needs, all classes are taught in mixed ability groups); by providing an extraordinary range of extra-curricular activities such as outward bound programmes, musical opportunities, and international study trips; and a commendable and much copied approach to education which focuses on the character of the whole person rather than just on learning.
Colin Townsend is an exceptional leader and we are lucky to have him – and he is the first to say that the University of Birmingham School owes much to its strong relationship with the University and, particularly, our School of Education. The School is also committed to ensuring that the quality of work experience for Year 10 pupils is not dependent on who their parents might know and the University will once again be working with them to provide opportunities this year. We will shortly issue a call for placements and I’d urge you to take part: in the past, we’ve offered placements in catering outlets, laboratories and offices – but there are no areas where we couldn’t have a pupil. The students love it and they are mutually rewarding experiences.
In my last message, I wrote about league tables and said that we might be simultaneously sceptical about them and recognise their real importance. One of the main league table providers published their ‘subject tables’ on Wednesday and there was very positive news for Birmingham. In the “QS World University Rankings” all five broad subject areas saw significant movement, with Life Sciences and Medicine moving up 30 places to joint 62nd, just ahead of Arts and Humanities at 65th. Seven subjects (Sport, Dentistry, English, Theology, Anatomy and Physiology, Linguistics, and Social Policy) are all now in the top 50 and over half of our subjects are in the top 100. The most significant gains are in Pharmacy, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Biology, and Computer Science. As I’ve said before, we shouldn’t worry too much about small ups and downs but this is more evidence that Birmingham is a great university. Whatever your job, you contribute to our success: President John F Kennedy famously asked a cleaner for NASA what he did and got, in reply, ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon’.
The fact that Pharmacy is ranked in the top 100 pharmacy schools in the world is remarkable, given that it has only been open for around a decade. Coincidentally, I visited the School yesterday and was really impressed by the quality of teaching, commitment of staff and by the research that I saw. Our programme has rapidly established itself as one of the best in the UK: reassuringly, Pharmacy is regulated (none of us would like to be prescribed medicines by underqualified people) and pharmacists have to pass national examinations. Our graduates are in the top tier and are hugely attractive prospects to employers. All of this has been achieved from a relatively small staffing base, but the success of the School means that they are currently significantly expanding their academic staff at the moment.
Last week, I held a staff lunch, which I try to do every couple of months. These provide opportunities for colleagues from across the University to tell me about their experiences of working here, and what we might start, stop, change or do more of. Often, colleagues tell me about some of the excellent work underway in their areas, and it was in this vein that I learnt more about ‘Recognise and Refer’ sessions delivered by the Student Wellbeing team. Recognise and Refer is a short training session to equip any member of staff with an understanding and overview of student wellbeing at the University of Birmingham. Students who are feeling vulnerable, or who are in crisis, will often turn to a staff member and the session helps you to understand how you can support someone and how to help them access the best possible assistance available. If you can spare an hour, and almost all of us can, take a look at the Recognise and Refer page.
Nominations are open for this year’s Founders’ Awards, which recognise outstanding achievements among our academic colleagues. You can find out more details about the awards, and how to nominate a colleague or team, on the Founders’ Awards intranet page.
Finally, as many of you know, the Muslim month of Ramadan started on Thursday. Muslims view this month of fasting as a time to connect with the spiritual, and to remember and empathise with those who are less fortunate. It is also a time to connect with family and friends, and so to mark Ramadan, our Islamic Society is providing free daily iftar meal in the Multi-Faith Chaplaincy to members of our University community. I wish you all Ramadan Mubarak.
Have a great weekend,