University of Suffolk (UOS) is the region’s newest university but ranked in the top 10 for Courses and Lecturers in the WhatUni Student Choice Awards (2019). Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Mohammad Dastbaz explains what its mission to be a community impact institution means.
UOS started life as a higher education college in 2007, with degrees accredited by University of East Anglia and University of Essex. We gained full independence in 2016 and now run four academic schools serving our partners in Suffolk and Norfolk as well as new partnerships in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Despite being a young university, we already attract nearly 10% of our students from the rest of the UK and overseas. Increasing student diversity is an important part of our role as a community impact institution. If we are going to achieve our aims of supporting growth and development in the region, we need to attract people from all walks and times of life. That’s why we offer foundation degrees through our partner colleges. It is also worth noting that around half our students are mature and more than half are female. Education is a fundamental driver of economic and social wellbeing. We don’t just equip students with knowledge; we also give them the confidence to live fulfilling lives. We aim to empower them as both professionals and individuals to make a positive impact in their work and in their community.
Applied learning for social good
As a community impact institution, it’s important that we support not only the region’s clean growth ambitions but also wider health and social wellbeing goals. We are proud of the fact that our courses and our governance support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We are also committed to using our fundamental research to support businesses in the East through an active programme of engagement. One recent example of our ability to deliver real impact is our Knowledge Transfer Partnership work with Orbital Media at the Stowmarket Innovation Labs. This resulted in the development of an innovative app for children with asthma, called MySpira. It combines AI with gamification to help children learn how to use their inhalers properly and so reduce the risk of fatal asthma attacks. We are committed to developing our research expertise in five distinct areas: Health and wellbeing, Sustainable development, Creative digital, Crime and social justice, and Cultural heritage and education. For instance, we are developing a £9.6m DigiTech centre at Adastral Park, which BT and New Anglia LEP have helped fund. This is nearing completion and will be operational later this year. This demonstrates our ambition to build the region’s strengths in advanced technologies, such as future networks, AI, data science, cyber security and embedded systems for smart living. Our Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre (IWIC), which opened in 2017, is another example of how we bring together students, academics and businesses. Its focus is on entrepreneurship, collaboration and training. All this contributes to our role as a key business support agency for the region and a provider of choice for knowledge exchange.