How the University of Sunderland found itself at the centre of world events in 2020

From hosting the Prime Minister full of hope for the future, to seeing its nursing students graduate and go straight onto the covid frontline, the University of Sunderland has seen itself at the centre of world events during a very bumpy 2020.

Tuesday, 29th December 2020, 1:43 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th December 2020, 1:44 pm
It's been a big year at the University of Sunderland, with the institution playing a big role in world events during a tumultuous 2020

Here we look back at key moments for the university, its staff, students and graduates:

JANUARY

Boris visit

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) arrives to attend a cabinet meeting held at the National Glass Centre at the University of Sunderland on January 31, 2020 in Sunderland Picture: DAVID WOOD

New University plans

The university’s ‘career-focused and professions-facing approach’ to its curriculum was endorsed by its Board of Governors.

The governors agreed that all subjects and programmes in the university should be educationally and financially sustainable, align with a particular employment sector, fit within the university’s overall strategy, and be of a consistently high-quality.

Jordan North (centre), with his co-presenters Tom Waite (left) and Stuart Birch (right), while at Sunderland University's Spark FM

Phew…that was lucky

Art student David Byrne feared he had lost months of work after he left his design portfolio on a Metro.

David was due to hand in his final year project just days after he realised his prized work had gone missing. But thanks to vigilant Metro staff, the 31-year-old was reunited with his work with just hours to spare.

David, from Elswick in Newcastle, said: “When I got the call from Nexus saying they had found my work, I was so relieved. I couldn’t believe it.”

FEBRUARY

Any Questions?

Popular BBC Radio 4 discussion show Any Questions broadcast from the university for the first time. Hosted by BBC political correspondent Chris Mason, the panel included visiting professor of journalism and associate editor of the Mirror, Kevin Maguire; Frans Calje, of PD Ports; director of think tank Centre for Labour & Social Studies, Faiza Shaheen; and the Spectator’s economics correspondent, Kate Andrews.

Teaching success

An internationally renowned educator was guest of honour as the University continued to celebrate its high standing in Undergraduate Education league tables.

Dame Alison Peacock, who is also a respected public speaker and writer, visited staff from the University’s Faculty of Education and Society.

The visit came after undergraduate education courses at the University were ranked second in the UK in the Guardian University League Tables 2020.

Holly’s high-kicking book launch

A passion for karate combined with a talent for illustration led university lecturer Holly Sterling to create a new children’s book.

Holly officially launched Karate Kids at CitySpace.

The book is a culmination of years of work for the Lecturer in Illustration, and draws from her own time as a karate champion, as well as the children she now teaches.

MARCH

Emeli’s passion

She officially opened the School of Medicine, talked to the next generation of young doctors and met the Students’ Union, staff and partners. Emeli commented: “Everything I have seen here today suggests that students, from all backgrounds, are getting life-changing opportunities - it’s inspiring to be a part of it.”

Just days later, the UK went into lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19 and all teaching and assessment moved online for the remainder of the academic year.

University takes lead as pandemic declared

University experts from AMAP created door openers to help avoid the spread of infection from Covid-19, using a 3D printer to design and manufacture the product in under a day.

AMAP went on to produce many thousands of door openers, which were distributed across the UK.

Student nurses take to the frontline

The group, who had just completed their three year Adult Nursing programme at the University, immediately began working on the frontline.

Gill Maw, Team Leader and Principal Lecturer for undergraduate Nursing and Paramedic Science, said; “Every one of our nurses has now been employed by the hospital trust they have been training with.”

APRIL

Covid battle donations from University

The university loaned or donated thousands of pounds worth of equipment to support the NHS in its fight against the pandemic, the most significant item being its pioneering, bespoke-built ambulance.

In normal times, the custom-made vehicle is used to train paramedics, but it was loaned to the North East Ambulance Service to help save lives in the community.

Teachers prove a force to be reckoned with

Traditionally a time for them to enjoy a classroom break, the Easter holidays during Covid-19 presented teachers with a new challenge.

Graduate and newly qualified teachers from the University opted to sacrifice their holidays to support and educate the children of frontline workers – putting themselves at the heart of the effort to combat the coronavirus.

John Howe, headteacher at Seaburn Dene Primary School in Sunderland, undertook the University’s Graduate Teacher Programme, which preceded PGCE School Direct, 10 years ago.

He said: “Our staff have risen to the challenge in these unprecedented times and the whole community is very proud of the contribution they are making.”

University-created face-shields used by NHS

University-designed protective face shields were used by frontline healthcare workers in North East hospitals as the pandemic worsened.

Experts from the University’s Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice (AMAP) designed their own visor from scratch with input from regional intensive care unit clinicians.

The protective shields were evaluated and trialled by medical experts, before the go-ahead was given to produce and supply visors for frontline workers at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI).

MAY

We celebrate International Nurses Day

At a time when the profession was more needed than ever, the university joined celebrations to mark nursing across the globe.

The last four years has seen the University of Sunderland’s School of Nursing grow from a fledgling training provider with a handful of nurses, to a range of programmes whose reputation now attracts hundreds of students from across the globe.

To share in the success of all its student nurses, graduates, academic staff and health partners, the University joined the celebrations, highlighting the impact nurses are having on Sunderland, London and overseas campuses and within their various health settings.

Arts and culture shifts online and will not be beaten

Although Sunderland cultural venues closed during lockdown, great performances, exhibitions and activities were still taking place.

The university-owned National Glass Centre and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art worked hard to continue delivering their arts, culture and heritage programmes online and in innovative new ways.

“As soon as the venues closed we started working on a plan for our combined digital channels to take interesting and inspiring content – old and new – into Sunderland homes,” said Keith Merrin from the NGC.

The show must go on for filmmakers of the future

Six university filmmakers were ready to take the movie industry on after receiving months of intensive guidance from Lord David Puttnam.

This year’s Puttnam Scholars – the university programme named after the Oscar-winning producer – have been creating, developing, and honing their skills since February this year.

But with the outbreak of Covid-19, the group of six were faced with a unique challenge – creating films in lockdown.

JUNE

Black Lives Matter

Professor Donna Chambers from the university, an expert in representations of race/gender, looked back on the frightening history of race killings in the US just days after the death of George Floyd.

Floyd’s death sparked protests across the world and an international outcry after he was filmed gasping for breath as a police officer held him down.

Degree Shows move online

With the world in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, arts students from the university moved their traditional Degree Show exhibitions online.

And they proved a huge success, as the artists were forced to use their initiative to create a catalogue of cutting edge work that could be displayed for an online audience.

Speaking about the exhibits, Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the university, said: “The students’ resilience has been admirable and that will, I know, stand them in good stead as they enter the world of work.”

Superstar Shannon to the rescue

Student paramedic Shannon Barthram put her life-saving skills to work after a man collapsed on the street.

Shannon, a first year Paramedic Science student at the University, had been returning to her home in Gateshead when she saw the fallen pensioner, lying unconscious on the pavement.

A small number of people had gathered to help but the 25 year old knew she could use her training to best assist the man. Well done Shannon.

JULY

Lending a helping hand

As part of a pre-emptive move to ease the pressures of Covid-19 on the region’s workforce, the university created the Skills Boost North East initiative – offering a 20% reduction on specified postgraduate programmes.

The scheme was targeted to help those affected by the pandemic, to use this time to develop and maximise their future opportunities.

Graduation celebration

As the eventful academic year drew to a close, the uni celebrated its Class of 2020 online. University friends and graduates from across the globe sent messages of congratulations, hope and support to the cohort from this unforgettable year.

Helena Baafi Mensah, MBA Human Resource Management said: "We did it, we made it and we’re ready to make our impact on the world."

Supporting our Armed Forces

The university was judged to be one of the most supportive organisations for Britain’s armed forces, in this year’s Employer Recognition Scheme Gold Awards.

Programmes and support is offered to former service personnel in a bid to help them retrain once their military career has ended.

Sir David Bell, University of Sunderland Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, said: "We are thrilled to be recognised with a ‘Gold‘ award under the UK Defence Employer Recognition Scheme.”

AUGUST

Top academics honoured

Two of academics achieve the UK’s most prestigious award for teaching and learning excellence.

Dr Adelle Hulsmeier and Dr Shelia Quaid were named among this year’s 56 new National Teaching Fellows, announced by Advance HE, on what is the 20th anniversary of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTF).

The scheme celebrates and recognises individuals who have made an outstanding impact on student outcomes and the teaching profession in higher education.

University artist Theo set for international residency

A university artist won a prestigious residency to show off his innovative work in the Netherlands.

Theo Harper was successful in his application to the EKWC European Ceramic Work Centre, an international workplace where artists, designers and architects explore the technical and artistic possibilities of ceramics.

The PhD student was following in the footsteps of internationally renowned ceramics artists who have also been awarded residencies, which have gone on to be career-changing.

SEPTEMBER

Wow – we are University of the Year for Social Inclusion

Sunderland is named University of the Year for Social Inclusion, according to The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021.

The prestigious honour recognised the University’s long-running success in attracting capable people into higher education, whatever their background or circumstances, and helping them to achieve their potential.

This is the third year in a row the university has ranked in the top 20 of the publication’s unique social inclusion list – but the first time it had achieved the University of the Year for social inclusion title.

Multimillion-pound cash boost for university project

A university project which aims to support manufacturers across the North East this month secured an extra £6million in funding.

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project (SAM) - one of the region’s largest investment programmes - aims to help businesses become more productive and sustainable.

Now, it is set to continue its work through to 2023 after securing the extra £6million.

University’s Strategic Plan reaffirmed

This month we reaffirmed its central purpose to be a life-changing university, while setting out a clear direction for the future.

Ambitious and relevant, the University’s Strategic Plan 2020 - 2025 set out a compelling statement of intent as it reinforced its position as a forward-looking, 21st century institution with a regional, national and international focus.

OCTOBER

Meet yet another hero paramedic

Paramedic student Kay Norris proved a guardian angel for a man after he was left badly hurt in a road crash.

Kay was able to put her trainee skills into action after witnessing the accident which left cyclist Andrew Moore with a catalogue of injuries.

Andrew said a special ‘thank you’ to Kay who helped keep him safe as paramedics rushed to the scene.

Education team lead the way for Covid-affected families

Experts proved a lifeline to staff and students after devising an innovative way of supporting them if their children are sent home from school.

Since the start of the Autumn term, many parents found themselves struggling to keep working in the event of children having to isolate as classrooms across the country try to control infection rates.

When staff and students from the university found themselves having to drop their work at a moment’s notice to pick up affected pupils, they approached the Faculty of Education to see if there was a possible solution.

An innovative new project was devised that has seen the university’s trainee teachers providing online schooling to isolating children of dozens of staff.

Extending helping hand to students most in need

A scheme which nurtures, develops and supports estranged students through their university life wins a major award.

The university’s ‘We Care’ initiative is a lifeline to scores of students who do not have a traditional family network to fall back on in times of need.

This month, the We Care programme picked up the Widening Access Initiative (Retention and Progression) Award at this year’s NEON awards. The Awards celebrate the transformative power that higher education can have.

NOVEMBER

University awarded over £300,000 to help schoolchildren

Thousands of North East schoolchildren are set to benefit after the success of an innovative bid by the university to help schools catch up on missed learning.

Earlier this year the Department for Education announced the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), a scheme designed to provide catch-up support to primary and secondary school pupils who may have missed out on lessons during the pandemic.

A leading team from the University’s Faculty of Education and Society then helped devise a special Catch up and Recovery course, aimed at trainee teachers, career returners, and recently retired educators.

Vice-Chancellor’s tribute to John Hays

For over 40 years, John built Hays Travel into the UK's largest independent travel agent providing jobs and careers for thousands of young people.

Paying tribute, Sir David said: “John was as an outstanding businessman and someone totally committed to the city of Sunderland. He was also a great friend and supporter, as well as an honorary graduate, of the University.

Winter graduations move online

The university’s winter graduations had a slightly different twist this year.

Due to the ongoing situation surrounding Covid-19, the live events were transferred to a three-day online celebration.

One of those students graduating was the remarkable Linzi Saunders.

The 23-year-old student, who had already had her life saved three times thanks to transplant surgery, graduated from her Masters in Fine Art.

DECEMBER

Pioneering music programme launches

A music course which will nurture, develop, and produce the music artists of the future is set to launch at the university.

The BA (Hons) Modern Music Industries course will be led by some of the North East’s most prolific musicians.

The programme will be run by the university in partnership with the Northern Academy of Music Education (NAME) – made up of Barry Hyde, from the Futureheads, and business partner Dan Donnelly, who has performed with Celtic Social Club, The Wonder Stuff, and The Levellers.

Jordan proves a fighter

He may not have been crowned King of the Castle, but Radio 1 DJ and University alumnus Jordan North won hearts across the country after an unforgettable three weeks on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!

Jordan, 30, was announced as the runner-up of this year’s series of the ITV reality show after an incredible journey, which saw him take on a number of trials and face his greatest fears at Gwrych Castle near Abergele, North Wales.

Vaccine for Hari

Dr Hari Shukla, who received his honorary award from the university in 1997, became one of the first people in the world to be administered with the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine at the RVI in Newcastle - one of 50 national vaccination hubs, alongside his wife Ranju.

Dr Shukla, 87, a former GP and race relations campaigner, said: “I’m so pleased we are hopefully coming towards the end of this pandemic and I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine, I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help."

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