University of Bradford leads the way on social inclusion

By Dave Baldwin

Strong cities need strong institutions and when a leading example is singled out for its excellence, it strengthens the standing of the city overall. Step forward University of Bradford, named by The Sunday Times as the UK’s University of the Year for Social Inclusion 2020.

The national award recognises the anchor institution’s outstanding impact on social inclusion that ensures all students, irrespective of their personal circumstances, are supported to achieve their potential and go on to achieve success. It’s a perfect illustration of the transformational work taking place in our district.

Alastair McCall, editor of The Sunday Times Good University Guide, said: “Bradford is a university for its city and the wider region and it offers lessons to the rest of British higher education on how to effectively embrace social diversity on campus.

“By recruiting very heavily from its immediate environs, Bradford has one of the largest proportions of students from ethnic minorities of any British university, but its social diversity extends wider and makes the new vice-chancellor’s stated desire to put the University of Bradford at the heart of the region’s social and economic regeneration no hollow ambition.

“The university provides opportunities for a higher education that are denied to so many elsewhere: two-thirds of the intake come from families where parents did not attend university; 40 per cent are mature students taking degrees many years after leaving school; and more than half are recruited from the four poorest socio-economic groups.

“These statistics show that social inclusiveness in the student body is ingrained in Bradford’s DNA. And it is all achieved with high levels of professional employment and excellent degree outcomes for students from all backgrounds – a remarkable achievement and one well deserving the award of University of the Year for Social Inclusion.”

Professor Shirley Congdon, who took over as vice chancellor in August after serving as deputy since 2015, is rightly delighted with this richly deserved reward. She is a great role model for young people in our district and has spoken of how she wants to use her position to promote equality and diversity and challenge the structural issues in society that hold people back.

Shirley started out working as a nurse and went into academia as a lecturer practitioner. She focused on health and social care studies and progressed into senior management posts in higher education. Shirley said: “Along the way, I came across people who questioned the value of my route into the university sector or brought attention to my County Durham accent.

“The University of Bradford can contribute significantly more to improving social mobility in society and will take a solid and consistent approach to this mission. We need more diverse people in more senior roles across the board.”

The university is central to developing Bradford’s future success stories. You don’t have to look far to find inspiring examples of social mobility in action. Take Maria Battul, who is studying International Relations and Security Studies and was Women’s and Campaign Officer for the students’ union last year.

Maria said: “I’ve been brought up in a single parent family so I’ve seen the struggles of my own mother and I’ve also seen other experiences of the women around me. I’m pushing for women to actually enter leadership roles. This is by the formation of a committee that I’ve created this year. It’s for women to lead and do activities and other events that they’d like to do. It’s all based around female students participating in leadership roles and empowering themselves.”

Xander Ford was the first person in his family to study at university. He graduated from Bradford in July with a first-class honours degree in Graphics for Games. He said: “I guess I could be described as a storyteller, artist, I don’t know. I enjoy just talking about things. I like making games and stories and telling those stories. I think it’s really cool.” Perfect skills for the UK City of Culture 2025.

There will be many thousands more like Maria and Xander out there. It’s our job to encourage them to realise their potential. Their achievements show their families, friends and communities what is possible when you set yourself a goal and work towards it.

Shirley and her team are building a powerful alliance with partners in schools, colleges, businesses, the local authority and health and care providers to support inclusion and reduce inequality. Winning this award is a great recognition of the progress already made and the foundations that have been put in place in Bradford to help people succeed in life, whatever their background.

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