Sunderland has been named University of the Year for Social Inclusion, according to The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021.
The prestigious honour recognises 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 has achieved the University of the Year for social inclusion honour.
Last year, the University opened a new School of Medicine with the specific intention of attracting a more diverse intake into the medical profession.
Sunderland is one of a handful of universities where more than 60% of the intake are the first in their family to go to university and more than 98% are educated in non-selective state schools.
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University, said: “Whether undertaking a foundation degree or studying in our medical school, students from all kinds of backgrounds have the opportunity to improve their career prospects and life chances when attending the University of Sunderland.
“With a long tradition of being an open and accessible institution, we are absolutely delighted to have been recognised as University of the Year for Social Inclusion.”
Alastair McCall, Editor of The Sunday Times Good University Guide, said: “Sunderland’s track record for widening participation to higher education is hard to match.
“The new medical school is the cherry on the cake with its ambitious plan to make the intake to medical profession more closely resemble the diverse backgrounds of their patients.
“Initiatives to engage schoolchildren who have the capability but not the motivation to aim for university are particularly bold. The sheer range of outreach and access work here makes an unanswerable case for making Sunderland our University of the Year for Social Inclusion.”
Georgios Vasilakis, 19, originally from Greece, arrived in Sunderland last September to study Web and Mobile Development.
He said: “Everyone at the University, and in the city, has been very welcoming. From the very first day I felt right at home.
“The University has guided me in the right direction. Even though I came from another country and a totally different background, I never felt alone here, I always had someone to speak to.
“Once I’ve finished my degree, I’d like to stay in Sunderland and do a Masters here.”
Professor Tony Alabaster, Academic Dean for the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, said: “We have always been proud of the diverse and rich backgrounds of our dedicated students.
“From our teams of nurses, pharmacists, paramedics and most recently trainee doctors, to our researchers, psychologists and sports students, we have always aimed to put inclusivity at the heart of what we do.”
The North East has the lowest proportion of school-leavers going on to university and Sunderland provides an avenue to degree-level education for many who might otherwise miss out.
Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, said: “Our Faculty in particular has a strong focus on inclusion, equality and diversity both academically and in the support and opportunities that we offer to our students and staff. We measure success by the contribution our staff and students make to society.”
University of Sunderland Chancellor, multi-platinum singer Emeli Sandé MBE said: “Here at Sunderland our ethos is that of inclusivity, giving people the chance to reach their full potential. We want our graduates to go on and be a force for change.”
Lee Hall, Head of School of Media and Communications, said: “Inclusion is absolutely core to our identity.
“Creating opportunities for students to express themselves and develop their talents, irrespective of their social and economic background, is a key part of our mission as a life-changing institution.”
Francesca Cockell is a second year student at the School of Medicine. She said: “One of the main reasons why I chose Sunderland was the knowledge that, if I got my degree there, I’d have the opportunity to get to know and build lasting relationships with people from all walks of life.
The diversity and inclusivity of the student body at Sunderland is something rarely found in higher education; which makes it an invaluable asset to any course studied here.”
The University moves up six places from 109 to 103 in this year’s Guide.
See the full Sunday Times list here.