University of Bristol pledges £10 million to address racial inequalities following consultation into building names

View of Bristol including Wills Memorial Building from the air
City of Bristol

This is an open letter from our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Evelyn Welch, addressing the outcomes of the renaming consultation and following actions.

Over the past three years, we have been examining the University of Bristol’s history, and the potential links of our founders and their wealth to the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved African people.

Following an initial report from a group of historians and other colleagues, the ‘Legacies of Slavery’ report, this summer we concluded a consultation with staff, students, alumni and our wider community about how to represent our history including whether it was appropriate to have major buildings named after these individuals. Nearly 4,000 people responded to our survey and hundreds more attended in-person sessions. Along with members of our Board of Trustees and our Senior team, I personally attended several powerful and impactful events that were led by local Bristol communities of African and Caribbean descent.

Throughout, whether in writing or during these meetings, I heard many distressing stories from those who had experienced racism and racist behaviours while engaging with, working at, or studying at the University of Bristol. What began as a consultation on our history and building renaming became a powerful channel for people to expose the challenges they have been facing. It also gave people the opportunity to voice their frustrations with the pace of our progress and raise concerns about our commitment to racial equity.

My message today, therefore, begins with an apology. I am deeply sorry for these damaging and hurtful experiences which continue to the present day, and I apologise to everyone impacted by those injustices. We aspire to be an inclusive institution and we must do better.

I also want to share what future-facing actions and commitments we are going to take.

To begin, I want to explain in more detail the relationship between the University and the three families and figures that are most closely involved in our history; Wills, Fry and Colston.

Edward Colston was a seventeenth-century slave trader. Famously, his statue was toppled into the docks during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The University received no funding from Colston, who died nearly 200 years before we were founded, but his personal emblem – the dolphin – still forms part of our crest and our modern logo.

The Wills and Fry families provided substantial funding in the early 20th century which enabled the University to be founded. The families did not own or traffic in enslaved people but the products that their predecessors, during the eighteenth and up to the second part of the nineteenth century dealt in, such as tobacco, sugar and cocoa were undoubtedly connected to enslaved labour. But the past is rarely straight-forward. Indeed, in the case of the Fry family, many members were staunch abolitionists.

The complexity of this history is reflected in the mixed and polarised feedback we received throughout the consultation process (we have made the consultation and engagement report available so you can see the results for yourself). But what is unequivocal, is that all respondents felt that it was crucial to acknowledge and explain our past, and to invest in co-creating solutions to address the educational, economic and health inequalities that we face today.

We have listened. I am, therefore, announcing today that we will be committing to a ten-year, £10 million reparative futures investment programme. The names of key buildings, including those of Wills and Fry will be retained and explained in the proper context. The programme will seek to present the complexities of our past in new ways. We will invest in initiatives and projects that will make a tangible contribution to addressing the racial injustice and inequality that our communities, in Bristol and beyond, face every day.

Importantly, it will look to secure the future of some of the significant initiatives that are ongoing and have already received support over the last few years. It will also ensure we take a more holistic and consistent approach to how we invest and govern our commitments to racial equity and justice as a university. We will appoint accountability partners and experts from our ethnically diverse communities to guide our decision-making and hold us to account going forward. We will create a community fund for proposals from local groups to work with University of Bristol colleagues on initiatives that collaboratively tackle educational, health, and economic inequalities.

We will also be replacing the Colston dolphin insignia from our University of Bristol logo which was designed in 2003. As I explained, Colston was not a donor to the University and had no relationship with the institution or its predecessors. We had already removed Colston’s name from one of our student residences and I feel it is therefore appropriate to remove this symbol, too. The sun symbol of the Wills family and the horse emblem of the Fry family will remain reflecting the wider decision around retaining building names.

I know that some of these decisions will not please everybody – but I believe we must tell our history in an honest, open and transparent way, while at the same time putting our full weight behind substantive action to address the broader issues of systemic racism and inequality here in Bristol and beyond.

The process that has led to these decisions has taken a long time. For some, it has been an imperfect process and may have felt at times that we were dragging our feet or avoiding difficult decisions. I want to reassure you that this was not the case and I share the frustration that it has taken a long time to reach this point. I am confident that we have reached the right balance between proactively addressing our history and being transparent and honest about our past.

But just because the consultation is closed does not mean the debate comes to an end. Indeed, the one place where we should be able to disagree and debate these issues is here, at one of the great global universities. We are an evidence-based institution and fully committed to freedom of speech. This means that continued discussion is welcome as we think carefully about how we describe the full picture of our past, how we represent it, and what we can learn from it. History matters to all of us, particularly when it impacts on current assumptions and practices.

We will of course keep you all updated on the programmes, the initiatives we will be undertaking and how to get involved in our Reparative Futures work. My thanks to the programme team who have led us through this conversation and thank you again to everyone who has taken the time to engage with us and share their views on this complex issue. For more information, see what action we are taking  or if you’d like to comment further, please contact

Read the University’s Annual Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Report highlighting work to deliver equitable outcomes for our students and staff.

Welcome back to the start of a new academic year

Dear Colleagues

Welcome back to everyone to a new academic year. I love the beginning of term and that sense of a fresh start. It has been wonderful to see the excitement of our new students as they arrived on campus last week (and tested out the helter-skelter in Royal Fort Gardens). As the first touchpoint of the year, these welcome fairs and induction events are a critical part of their University of Bristol experience. My thanks to the many teams who have worked extremely hard to support their arrival: this takes significant amounts of time, planning and coordination.

Professor Evelyn Welch at a table with black jacket and red scarf against low lit background
Professor Evelyn Welch

I am personally looking ahead to my second year in post as your Vice-Chancellor, and the opportunity to build on all that I’ve learned from you through meetings, visits and my VC surgeries. I’m delighted to start this new year with a full Executive Board in place. We spent a few days in early September with our Student Union officers imagining what the world might look like in 2045. While some of us were busy talking about implanted neural sensors allowing immediate information downloads straight to the brain, the students reminded us that sport, drama, clubs, friends and being together inside and outside the classroom will always matter – connection amongst our Bristol community is something we need to continue to invest in. We also agreed to work together to tackle some of this year’s immediate challenges including the cost-of-living, academic skills development and mental health support.

The students give us hope and there is a lot to look forward to this year. The UK is back in Horizon Europe; we opened our new Dental School, offering free appointments to local families; and the arrival of the new Isambard AI Supercomputer this summer will allow us to contribute to national and international discoveries in areas where we excel such as climate change, healthcare and the creative industries. I am also very grateful that we have, through dialogue and discussion, been able to come to agreements with our local Unions that have led to a smooth start to the year, including a joint statement with UCU. We will continue to work closely with UCU, UNISON and UNITE as we review our pay spine, workload pressures and other issues which I know are of importance to you all. We have achieved a lot together so far and will continue to work as one committed community.

Our Executive Team and I will be in touch regularly throughout the forthcoming year with opportunities for you all to reach out and share your views and issues.

Thank you all for everything you do to make the University of Bristol such a special place.

Best wishes


Professor Evelyn Welch
Vice-Chancellor and President

Building our international reputation and networks back home

As we approach the end of the current academic year, and my first at Bristol, I would like to thank everyone across the University for the work that we’ve all done to make us such a special place.  I have learned so much about the outstanding work colleagues are doing across the board, from devising sustainable catering options to creating successful spin-out companies. The year has not been without its challenge – more below – but I am very proud of everything we’ve been able to do together.

Building our international reputation

This term I’ve focused on international visits; meeting with our Bristol alumni, supporters and partners on both coasts of the United States.

In New York City, I was quizzed by our graduate and BBC reporter, Laura Trevelyan, famous for her determination to redress the legacy of her ancestors who profited from the work of slaves on plantations in Grenada. I was able to talk with her and fellow alumni about how we and our city are responding to the same challenge and how they can help provide redress for long-standing social injustices.

On the West Coast, the conversation turned to our major quantum spin-out success and we were  joined by the UK’s envoy for Science and Industry.

Those that have done well recognise that Bristol helped them with their first steps and we are very grateful for their ongoing support with, for example, our Bristol Black Scholarship Programme.

There is still more to do to ensure that future students, businesses and academic collaborators in the USA hear more about our world-leading work in research and education. We now have a team of three colleagues working in the States, focusing on raising our profile and reputation. If you are planning a trip to the US, let us know and we can connect you.

Bristol participates in a number of international consortia. I joined Agnes Nairn and colleagues at the University of Monterrey for the annual meeting of the World Universities Network. We were one of the founding members of this network, which supports international research links, including themes such as student mental health and climate change. This was an opportunity to link up with our partners to discuss the next steps in launching our charter on equitable partnerships between the Global North and South. Thanks to the work of the Perivoli Africa Research Centre and colleagues at UCT and the University of South Africa (UNISA), we will launch the charter in Namibia next month.

Building networks back home

I’ve been continuing to meet schools, faculties, staff networks and students; most recently Geography, Education, Law, Policy Studies, Physics, Chemistry and Engineering, and our specialist research groups such as the Quantum Engineering Technologies Lab. I spent time with more than 100 members of our different staff groups working on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. I left this conversation proud of our mutual support for each other but also very aware of how much more we need to do to ensure colleagues from minority backgrounds feel their experiences are understood, appreciated and valued; and, even more importantly, that their voices are heard and acted upon.

Industrial action

This year has been one of celebrating success but also a time when we have had to have frank conversations around pay, pensions and the terms and conditions for staff. I hope we can all agree that the clear agreement between our union, UCU and UUK, over next steps on the USS pension, is very positive. Now we need to find a negotiated outcome to the other disputes. I hope UCU members will join me in advocating for the changes that Bristol has already put in place around the issues to do with terms and conditions; this makes us amongst the lowest users of short-term contracts in the Russell Group. We are also working with all our local trade unions on our pay spine.

I explained in the live-stream why things have become so difficult. Despite what you may have heard, UCEA, the employers’ negotiating group, has not left the negotiating table. UCEA remains open to discussing terms of reference for a national conversation about the many things that we care about: pay spines, pay gaps, contract and workloads. But with so many higher education institutions facing severe financial challenges, often necessitating redundancies, we will only be able to discuss further national pay rises next spring when we look at the 24/25 pay settlement. In a special meeting of Senate, called by members on 19 June, to discuss the temporary regulations in place to support student progression and graduation this summer, I am pleased to say that, after robust discussion, 78% of Senators supported and had confidence in the regulations. The marking and assessment boycott is truly regrettable and will do little to change the financial challenges caused by rising inflation, flat tuition fees and research income that doesn’t cover its costs. I remain open to hearing from anyone, whether on an individual basis or as a group, about how we try to move forward in a way that supports both our own University and the wider sector as a whole.

Regional and civic engagement

One of the very special aspects of our University is the difference we can make to the city and region in which we live. I was pleased to share the stage with Mayor Marvin Rees at a conference on ‘Realising Regional Growth’ and to have West of England Mayor, Dan Norris, with us when we signed the contract for our new CM1 Temple Quarter main building. This was followed by a ‘breaking ground’ ceremony on site, where we were joined by Mayor Rees, local councillors and our constituency MP, Thangam Debbonaire.

Temple Quarter breaking ground ceremony


Professor Steve West and I celebrated 30 years of collaboration in Bristol on UWE’s anniversary of becoming a university, signing the Civic University Agreement which provides the framework for future partnership working across the city. And in probably the most impressive news of all, our wonderful University Challenge Team became the first Bristol showing in a series final. Given it was Jeremy Paxman’s last episode, it was particularly nail-biting. While the team eventually lost out to Durham, they really did us proud!

University Structures 2030

Finally, our work is progressing on our strategic business change programme University Structures 2030. Our ambition is to create a clearer framework for decision-making, build a smaller, more agile leadership team, and enable decision-making at the lowest appropriate level. This programme will bring together three strands of change to ensure integration and alignment – Academic Structures, the Professional Services Operating Model, and the Structure of the Academic Year. We intend to establish three new faculties, and are implementing some academic leadership changes from 1 August 2023, as part of a two-year transition period during which structures will evolve to ensure we are fully integrated by 2025.

Civic leaders
Signing the Civic University Agreement

In support of these changes, I am delighted to welcome our new Pro-Vice Chancellors and Executive Deans: Jeremy Tavare (Health and Life Sciences), Ian Bond (Engineering and Science) and Esther Dermott (Arts, Law and Social Sciences), as well as our new Director of Faculty Operations, Mary Millard, who will lead this change through our transition period. Please also welcome our two new Associate Pro-Vice Chancellors, Liang Fong Wang (Global Engagement) and Palie Smart (Civic Engagement). We also have a suite of new Heads of School including Chrissie Thirlwell as Head of Bristol Medical School, joining us from Exeter University; Jennifer McManus as Head of the School of Physics; and John Wylie, as Head of Geographical Sciences, the latter two both internal appointments.

We have a lot going on across our University and it’s important that we all take time to rest and recharge. I hope that you have holiday booked to enjoy the rest of this glorious British summer weather. We are blessed on campus with the many green spaces to enjoy – thank you to our campus team who do a fantastic job of keeping us close to nature. Remember to make use of these spaces to relax and unwind. Our world-class Botanic Garden offers free entry to staff and students, and is well worth a visit for some peace and tranquility (and, as I can testify, a fabulous place to have coffee and cake).

I hope you have a wonderful summer.



  • Temple Quarter breaking ground ceremony image:
    Professor Welch, Mayor Marvin Rees, Hector McAlpine of Sir Robert McAlpine, Chair of Trustees, Jack Boyer, and Thangam Debbonaire MP
  • Civic University Agreement image:
    From left to right: Julia Gray, Principal and Chief Executive Officer – City of Bristol College; Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor and President – University of Bristol; Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor, President, and Chief Executive Officer – UWE Bristol; Andrea Dell, Head of City Office; and Stephen Peacock, Chief Executive – Bristol City Council. Photo credit – UWE Bristol

A sector and city of change: reflections after six months

It is six months since I became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol.  My thanks to everyone who has helped me get to know the University and the City in all their brilliance and boldness. I have seen such great things happening but have also had numerous conversations about individual and collective challenges. I appreciate the open way in which colleagues, students and other members of our broader Bristol community have shared their insights, ideas and opinions.

I wanted to take time to write down my reflections and share some of what I see as the future for our University in light of those discussions. I do so in the knowledge that not all is well in Higher Education across the UK, or indeed globally, as I write this in South Africa during my first trip abroad on behalf of Bristol. However, while some of what I say below is quite sobering, I am optimistic about the future. Everywhere I’ve been (whether it has been a Bristol, Pretoria or Cape Town classroom), I have met such extraordinary people who are determined to do, and be, their very best.

As part of my trip, I have been visiting our strategic partner, the University of Cape Town, who, like us, have ambitious plans that take them to 2030. Like us, they also have concerns about student fees, accommodation costs and the need for greater inclusion, social and racial justice, and access to the benefits of Higher Education.

Signing of strategic agreement with acting VC, Professor Sue Harrison, University of Cape Town
Presentation by Professor Divine Fuh, UCT
Meeting Dr Dlamini-Zuma, South African Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities
With University of Pretoria VC, Tawana Kupe, and his team

While we also have considerable differences, there are some fundamental shared issues. Declining home fees no longer cover the actual costs of tuition; we are increasingly dependent on international fees or philanthropy to cover gaps in research funding and education. For public institutions that don’t have large endowments, there are few easy answers.

I don’t need to remind you that, at Bristol, while our income is constrained by caps on home tuition fees, our costs are not. Inflation has hit everybody personally. Our students are worried about how far their maintenance grant will stretch. Colleagues are understandably concerned about rising costs, pay and pensions. It has hit the University as an institution as well. Some of this isn’t new, and these growing financial pressures have led to staff strikes and student protests in Higher Education for almost five consecutive years. But post-COVID, things really do need to change. The goodwill that has kept our system working is fraying at every level.

But if this is the challenge,  there is some hope on the horizon in the United Kingdom. Our unions and Universities UK have agreed a joint statement on pensions which we endorse, and while negotiations on pay may have concluded, we support ongoing talks on broader working conditions.

I have been out listening to colleagues in numerous venues, from individual meetings at my monthly VC surgeries to picket line conversations. I have heard sensible suggestions about practical steps that we can take to be more effective and efficient, as well as exciting ideas for new opportunities. In turn, I have done my best to explain why we need to change our approach to University finances and decision-making, ensuring we simplify processes, reduce bureaucracy and build more trust into our systems. I know there is more to do to explain how we make investment decisions, particularly in terms of capital expenditure.

This does mean change, something that I know can elicit groans of “not again!”

Let me explain what is being proposed and why. Our current University Executive Board is very large, with more than 25 members. We also have a Strategic Implementation Board, featuring essentially the same people, monitoring our progress against our strategy and agreeing investments that will help deliver our aims. A host of committees feed into these two groups, including the Academic Leadership Group, Operations Board, Portfolio Boards and other groups which oversee implementation of the various themes of our strategy. Faculties and Directorates have their own layers of meetings, which should join up with these senior-level university groups but often don’t. Then there is Senate, a key academic body, which has its own essential groups that meet and report regularly.

Universities are complex places, but as the description above suggests, we can build in more  complexity than is really needed. These committees and meetings consume people’s attention, focus and time.

My ambition is for Bristol to be more open, trustworthy and trusting, restoring energy by placing authority where it is needed most. With greater autonomy comes greater local accountability. Within agreed guidelines, and referring to specific expertise when needed, we should trust one another to do our very best.

To make this possible, Judith Squires has been leading a review of our academic leadership structures, drawing upon ideas from a working group drawn from Senate members. I’ve been clear with that group from the beginning that I do need a smaller number of Deans on our University Executive and that, above all,  Schools need greater visibility and autonomy. The working group, in turn, has come up with a range of ways in which this could be made possible, while retaining elements of the current structures they believe are valuable.

In the Spring, therefore, we will be appointing three Executive Deans for Health & Life Sciences, Arts, Social Sciences & Law and Science & Engineering, initially for a period of up to two years. Executive Deans will work with colleagues to define, within agreed overarching university guidelines, local frameworks that work for their Schools, staff and students. These appointments will be made from the current cohort of Deans or equivalents to ensure some continuity as we work through the detail of the changes over the next eighteen to twenty-four months.

What does this mean for Professional Services (PS) colleagues?  Simplified Faculties, and Schools with more responsibility and accountability will need appropriate levels of PS support (balanced across local and central teams) with appropriately streamlined processes and systems. Work to create efficient and effective PS teams is now underway at Bristol and engagement on this will continue. Lucinda Parr is leading this work. Over the next six months she will be leading a process to define the structures required to give Executive Deans and Heads of School the help they need. Lucinda will be supported in this by a new Executive Director of Faculty Operations, who will be appointed over the summer to help us evolve the Faculty PS model in support of our strategy. More information about the changes can be found here and here.

I realise there will be some anxiety around implementing changes. This is why we are moving swiftly to make the direction of travel clear while also taking time to implement the detail, which will include confirming how students are represented in our decision-making.

While University structures matter, they are the mechanism for delivering our ambitions, not an ambition in their own right. We have a lot to do and a lot to deliver by 2030. We have a bold strategy and a new campus to open in 2026. We face serious issues around climate change and meeting our Net Zero commitments, with or without offsetting. We are part of a city that is changing all around us. We need to contribute to its overall prosperity, not just our own.  As just one of many examples of how we make this work, our city is home to the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, where last month I signed an agreement with UWE Vice-Chancellor Steve West, formalizing our ten-year partnership commitment in what is the largest academic centre for robotics research in the UK.

On practical matters, let me finish by outlining some major financial decisions that we have recently made or are in the process of deciding. There are often concerns that we invest more in buildings than in people, but that isn’t the case: at Bristol more than 50% of our income goes on salaries. Nonetheless, our people need the right infrastructure within which to work. The Board of Trustees has approved recommendations to modernize our computing network. They have also approved a major upgrade to our teaching and learning facilities in the Veterinary School, as well as the extension on our lease of Maggs House, enabling more innovative student-focused space to be developed on the Clifton Campus. At the end of March, the Board will also make the final decision on the construction of the main CM1 building at Temple Quarter, a key moment in planning that has been ongoing since the idea of a new campus was first discussed almost a decade ago.

This is exciting. This is ambitious. This is bold. This is why I came to Bristol.

I realise that some of what I have written may raise more questions for you. We can pick these up either in our next town-hall live-stream meeting or you can always email me at

Thank you again for the welcome shown to me over these first six months and the work that each and every one of you does to make us such a special place. I look forward to meeting with many more of you in the weeks and months ahead.

End of term and looking ahead to 2023

The past four months have flown by so quickly and it is hard to believe that we are almost at the end of term.

It has been a real pleasure to get to know the University of Bristol community, our city and our many friends and partners. I have been so impressed by the high calibre of our academic and professional services work. I have seen the depth of the shared commitment of staff, students and our city to solving long-term issues such as public health, environmental sustainability and social justice. I have participated in open conversations on difficult and complex issues ranging from contemporary racial inequalities to cost-of-living pressures.

I am committed to building on these foundations and it was great to launch the University’s new strategy, one that will take us to 2030.  I was not here when the strategy was developed but it is a privilege to lead the delivery of its purpose-led, bold and uniquely Bristolian drive for excellence and inclusion over the next seven years.

The next phase is to move forward to meet our promises and put our strategy into practice. I have every confidence that we can do this, and more. Over the past months, I have visited schools, faculties and directorates and held two live-streamed conversations with staff. I have worked closely with our University of Bristol Students’ Union to hear their views on what we do well, and where we need to improve. I have met regularly with the Mayor of Bristol and the Metro Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority and caught up with what we do collaboratively through our SetSquared, GW4 and the Western Gateway Initiatives. Our University senior team have met with UWE and the University of Bath’s executives to explore areas where we can deepen our local partnerships. I have been out to see the National Composites Centre and Science Create where some of our most entrepreneurial work takes place and taken Research council, Research England and parliamentary visitors around the new Bristol Digital Futures Institute and our exciting emerging Temple Quarter site.

I have also been struck by the special place that the University of Bristol has in the life of the nation as well as globally. It was a privilege to represent the University at Her Royal Highness, the late Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral and to host the Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address and the High Sheriff’s conference on how to make the legal system more diverse. I have met numerous alumni in the UK and from across the world who want to help make the University as effective as possible. If we can deliver on our 2030 ambitions, we will be an exemplar of what it truly means to be a global-civic university.

Throughout these conversations, I have also been aware of the challenges that we face, both in dealing with our past and in formulating our future. We have an increasingly diverse student body but this isn’t reflected in our the make-up of our staff. We are seeing much higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression in both our student and staff bodies than ever before. Expectations about what we should provide are rising at the same time as our financial resources are being stretched to their limits. But I believe that Bristol will rise to these challenges today just as we have done in the past. I am very excited about what 2023 will bring and look forward to seeing you all again in the New Year.

I’ve recorded a short film for my University colleagues reflecting on my experiences this term and looking ahead to 2023 which you may like to watch.

Have a wonderful, restful break and a Happy New Year.

Participation and partnership

I have now been at Bristol for just over two months. I remain constantly impressed with what I see every day but also very aware of many of the challenges we face collectively and individually going into the winter.

I’ve really enjoyed meeting so many of you, including hearing about our University Research Institutes and research groups, attending Faculty Assemblies, speaking to students, and attending a Global Lounge Diwali celebration hosted by the India Society (below). The staff long-service event was another real highlight, celebrating the contributions and service of over 25 and 40 years of more than 50 colleagues.

I know how committed Bristol staff are to our students and our community, and that the decision to take strike action is always a difficult one. UCU has announced three days of strike at the end of November. This is a national pay dispute and we will do our part to try to achieve an affordable outcome that works for our future and that of our sector.

Universities need friends more than ever, and I’ve also spent some of this time telling our Bristol story to partners and supporters. These include politicians such as Thangam Debbonnaire MP, in whose constituency we sit, and the Shadow Universities Minister, Matt Western MP. Matt is a Bristol graduate and enjoyed seeing our Temple Quarter site, visiting the Bristol Digital Futures Institute, and meeting our student officers. I introduced the Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address in Wills Hall, and I or one of our senior team now join his fortnightly City Partners call to co-ordinate our approach to Bristol’s urban challenges. One of the results has been our contribution to the city’s ‘welcoming spaces’ initiative where we are supporting young people in the Barton Hill area through after-school clubs on our micro-campus at the Wellspring Settlement led by IntoUniversity.

Partnership is key to our 2030 vision. I very much enjoyed meeting with the CEO of the SS Great Britain to look at how we can build on our long-standing collaboration and was very excited to meet ‘Brunel’ (right) when I spent an evening on the ship as part of our public engagement event, FUTURES 2022 – the largest showcase of research and innovation in the region. I sat down with the CEOs of the Bristol and Weston NHS Trust and the North Bristol Trust to discuss how much more we could do together to tackle health inequalities in the city. I’ve been out to the National Composites Centre and spoken about the entrepreneurship we see at Bristol and the contributions we make to our broader area at the Western Gateway Development Conference.

We will shortly be publicly launching our Strategy – your Strategy – to 2030. I’ll be back next month to ask for your views on how you want to contribute to achieving our ambitions. Meanwhile, I’ve done a short video from the robing room in the Wills Memorial Building as I get ready for my first week of graduations.

Reflections on my first month

I have been in post now for four weeks. While short, it has been a memorable period with events ranging from attending the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey on your behalf or watching carefully as the new government has put its priorities in place to see what this means for Higher Education.

Alongside these national events, we’ve welcomed our students back to campus and enjoyed the Welcome Fair and all the amazing activities that the Students’ Union have put in place. I finished my first round of local and student media interviews, including with BBC Points West, Radio Bristol, Heart FM, Bristol 24/7, Epigram, UBTV and the Tab; and for colleagues who missed it, you can view my Town Hall introduction and Q&A session on the staff intranet.

Elsewhere, we’ve also had good news from Research England’s Knowledge Exchange Framework exercise which shows that Bristol is second only to Oxford in the amount of investment that our spin-out companies attract, testimony to the brilliance and impact that our research is achieving.

On a more sobering note, I’ve been speaking to UNISON colleagues on their picket lines last week. I’ve heard understandable worries about pay, cost-of-living concerns and workload pressures. While the issues around pay can only be negotiated at a national level, my colleagues will be working with all our trade unions to see what local measures we can take to help staff get through the winter and beyond.

Finally, I’ve had just over 170 messages to the VC-Feedback inbox and I’ve done my best to reply to each of you individually. I remain so impressed with the deep affection that you all have for the University of Bristol, one that I now understand and share myself. That gives me great confidence that we will be able to navigate any shifting funding or political challenges together. The dedicated mailbox is now closed but you can always contact me on

In this short video, filmed in the study spaces of Senate House, I’ve tried to capture what this month has felt like.

University Strategy Review, 2021: taking stock in a changing world

By Professor Hugh Brady and Professor Judith Squires

In 2015 we launched our University Vision and Strategy. This followed a period of collaborative consultation across our community which sought to capture the collective ambition and imagination of our staff, our students, and the wider Bristol family. Thousands of you engaged in that process, and tens of thousands of thoughtful comments were submitted which helped to shape the final outcome – a robust strategic plan that has enabled our community to achieve remarkable things.

To give just a few highlights:

  • We gave a clear commitment to education and the student experience, with the stated goal of assisting our students to develop their knowledge, skills, and adaptability, and to enhance their resilience. This saw us launch the Bristol Futures initiative and introduce a raft of new high-quality study skills courses, support, and personal development planning.
  • We set out to improve the way we provide pastoral support for our students. This was a huge strand of work involving a university-wide review of our wellbeing and mental health support, the launch of our staff and student mental health and wellbeing strategies, and the total overhaul of our support in residences, with the introduction of Residential Life services and the Student Wellbeing service.
  • We committed to significantly increasing the number of high potential students from local schools through our Bristol Scholars programme. Of the scheme’s first cohort, more than 20% have now concluded their studies with a first-class degree. We also committed to rolling out a new contextual offer system for high potential students from aspiring state schools. Today, more 70% of our intake are from state school, with more than 1,500 arriving from aspiring state schools.
  • We launched a new £1m Black Bristol Scholarship Programme which aims to support around 130 undergraduate and postgraduate Black students over the next four years. We also set out to provide support for students from underrepresented backgrounds while they are with us, with a tailored package of support and pastoral care. We have seen really important developments in this area, including the Be More Empowered (BME) for Success Programme which celebrates and supports our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students.
  • We wanted to make internationalisation even more central to our thinking and behaviour. In an increasingly competitive environment, between 2016/17 and 2020/21, our Overseas student population increased by 63%. Our continued relationship-building with leading institutions across the world has also yielded several new strategic partnerships, including the Perivoli Africa Research Centre and a bilateral arrangement with the University of Cape Town.
  • We aimed to increase the innovation potential of our graduates. We’ve done that in all sorts of ways, notably via our award-winning Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship which runs 4-year integrated masters’ degrees for undergraduates to study innovation, alongside their main discipline.
  • We said we wanted to nurture and grow our community of innovators and scholars in teaching and learning, and here, too, we’ve made huge progress. We launched our curriculum enhancement programme, our Student Fellows initiative, and the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching (BILT). BILT in particular has gone from strength to strength supporting our teaching community, particularly during last year’s pedagogical response to COVID-19.
  • We committed to remodelling the centre of our main campus to create a welcoming student-centred heart to our university. We’re really pleased with the progress the Campus Heart Programme has made to our enhanced sports centre and facilities, and the newly refurbished Senate House, proving important new living room, social and catering space at the heart of our campus. We have also recently secured planning permission for the New University Library.
  • We made it very clear we wanted to continue to compete successfully with the world’s leading research-intensive universities. To support this ambition, we established specialist research institutes (SRIs) to give greater external visibility to our world-leading specialist research programmes of scale. We have now launched seven SRIs which are all overseeing remarkable, cutting-edge research. In addition, we have seen clear benefits from strengthening our University Research Institutes. Notably, the impact of the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute on our COVID-19 research response has been most impressive.
  • We committed to creating 100 tenure-tracked Vice-Chancellor’s Fellowships for early and mid-career researchers to boost research and leadership capacity in areas where Bristol has established international leadership, or the capacity to develop international leadership. We have appointed 40 fellows to date.
  • We set out an ambition to collaborate more closely with regional industry to drive world leading innovation, economic growth, and job creation across our city-region. We’ve seen great progress here. SETsquared, for example, has been hugely successful and has been named the best university incubator in the world for 3 consecutive years. We’ve also secured significant funding for programmes such as MyWorld and the Bristol Digital Futures Institute (BDFI), which has helped us develop partnerships with some of the world’s most innovative companies, including BT, Dyson, BBC, Airbus and Aardman, as well as local government and community organisations.
  • We wanted to mainstream sustainability in the minds of all our students and nurture future leaders in sustainable thinking. In April 2019 we became the first UK university to declare a climate emergency, reaffirming our commitment to taking action on climate change. We also aspired to promote policy innovation in sustainability through further development of our Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment. This has facilitated and accelerated the translation of research outputs into real societal and policy impact, including through our close working connections with COP, the Government Office for Science and BEIS, and our membership of the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group.
  • We committed to improving the quality of two-way communication between the leadership team and colleagues across the University. This has seen us introduce new feedback tools, including the initiation of regular all-staff live streams which have been positively received across the organisation.

An evolving higher education context
As a leadership team, we regularly monitor the University’s progress in relation to the 2016 strategy. The above highlights demonstrate that colleagues across our community have done an outstanding job of delivering against the targets and ambitions we set ourselves. But while much of the 2016 strategy still stands, we must recognise just how rapidly our external environment has changed in recent years.

This change has been driven by the impact and fallout of the global pandemic, Brexit and the UK’s new relationship with our European partners, the uncertain higher education, research and innovation policy landscape, and a funding environment which requires us to do more for less each year as home undergraduate fee income is continually squeezed in real terms. This latter challenge could be further exacerbated by the government’s forthcoming response to the Augur Review of post-18 education, which recommended a cut in tuition fees from £9,250 to £7,500. A change in research funding policy has also added new emphasis to place, regional research links, economic development, job creation and the levelling up agenda.

In response to these and other challenges, the coming months present a timely opportunity to ask ourselves what is within our power to do to mitigate the risks we face? Equally, what can we do to give ourselves the best chance of seizing the new global opportunities on offer?

Standing still and maintaining the same size, shape and institutional portfolio is not a credible response to these questions, particularly as our international competitors continue their rapid advance. We must instead think very carefully about different ways to deliver on our ambitions.

Our collective challenge, then, is to build on the success of the 2016 strategy by adapting it for our times.

Continuity of ambition
Our ambition to continue competing successfully with the world’s top research-intensive universities remains undiminished. We also want to establish Bristol as a progressive standard bearer with regard to academic values, inclusivity, and culture; and to re-claim our position in the world top 50.

Financial security is key to achieving our ambitions. On this point, we must recognise that, in comparison to many of our peers, Bristol is a relatively small institution. While we all value our strong disciplinary mix and the wide-ranging benefits of being a comprehensive university, with all the opportunities for multi and inter-disciplinary research and education that this affords, it is clear we are not an optimum ‘shape’ in terms of creating the high financial margins needed to achieve our ambitions.

If we look at higher ranked Top 50 international (and UK) universities, most have more income to invest, particularly for research, because their student body is larger and more international. Indeed, most of our peers benefit from being either very ancient, or very large, well endowed, or capital city-based. So how can we best achieve our ambitions in the face of such stiff competition at home, and around the world?

At the most basic level, we must continue to be unswerving in our commitment to excellence in research, education, professional services and operations. This is, of course, the founding principle of most top ranked universities. It will not, on its own, be enough to secure our future. Indeed, there are certain fundamentals common to all successful higher education institutions, and the core c75% of activities in top ranked research intensives look very similar. To continue competing with the best in the world, our play book will have to be somewhat different and distinctive to our own particular context. In this respect, we are very fortunate.

Relative to many of our peers, we are situated in one of the UK’s most creative and liveable cities, at the heart of one of Europe’s most vibrant knowledge- and technology-intensive regional ecosystems. We are a values-driven organisation, with a strongly collegial and inclusive culture. We also have a proud, productive, and mutually beneficial track record of partnership with our region’s citizens, communities, cultural organisations, industrial base and public institutions (e.g. Bristol City Council, the West of England Combined Authority, the NHS, GCHQ, the Met Office, Bristol Old Vic, Bristol Ideas, CARGO, and many more).

It will be the c25% of our play book that is distinctive which will determine our future success. And it is how we leverage that distinctiveness – what we invest in, how we build on our strengths, and who we partner with at home and abroad – which will give us the comparative advantage we need to compete with our better-resourced peers.

Crucially, to continue competing successfully with the best in the world, we must be honest in recognising the need to generate more income to reinvest in our university’s future. World-class education and research is a ‘deep pockets’ game. In our diminishing UK funding setting, this means growing high margin unregulated fee income, including through further increasing the proportion of international and postgraduate students.

With the changing social, political and economic landscape at the front of our minds, it’s time to look again at the 2016 Vision and Strategy, revaluate our competitive and comparative advantages and focus on the things that really build pride in our institution, and which are specific to Bristol.

To this end, we have developed a revised Vision and Strategy White Paper which proposes our strategic direction for 2021-2030.

This document sets out where we think our strategic resources and efforts could best be directed to achieve our shared ambitions. It has been developed with input from Senate, Deans, Heads of School, University managers and several forums, including the anti-racism steering group and the new University Civic Engagement Committee. Importantly, the White Paper should be seen as an evolution of the 2016 Vision and Strategy, rather than a re-write.

The White Paper
The document is comprised of three pillars, three enablers and three cross-cutting themes. Together, these elements set out our proposed priorities and provide a roadmap for achieving our collective goals.


The strategic pillars are the core of what we want to achieve. They include:

  • World-leading research and innovation with global impact
  • An inspiring education and transformative student experience in a changing world
  • The transformative power of the global civic university


The strategic enablers are the prerequisites we need to achieve our ambitions. They include:

  • Inspiring and supporting our people
  • Creating a world-class campus
  • Investing in our future

Cross-cutting themes

These themes are intimately connected and embedded to all areas of our work, and to everything we do. They include:

  • Developing internationalisation and global relations
  • Embedding environmental sustainability
  • Fostering equality, diversity and inclusion

What’s next?
Importantly, this strategy review is an iterative process, and the White Paper is by no means a final document. As we head through June and July, this is your opportunity to ‘stress-test’ each statement within the White Paper and to engage in the big questions that will determine the future of our institution. If you think the priorities identified are not the right ones to achieve our shared ambitions, we want to hear alternative suggestions. You can give us your feedback via the Strategy Consultation form.

We also have upcoming live stream sessions dedicated to each pillar, enabler and cross-cutter. This will provide an opportunity to hear more about the rationale behind each section of the White Paper from the individual institutional leads, and to ask questions. Theme leads will also join upcoming faculty and divisional meetings, where they can.

Once we have received and reviewed your collective feedback at the end of July, we will develop the final iteration of the revised Vision and Strategy, ensuring it is articulated in a way that resonates with all our stakeholders. It will then be considered for approval by UEB, Senate and, finally, the Board of Trustees at its November meeting.

In the meantime, please do take a look at the White Paper, join our dedicated live stream sessions, and use the feedback form to share your views. Thank you for your support and engagement with this most important exercise.

Combating COVID-19 together

It’s no exaggeration to say our institutional response to COVID-19 in March was heroic! Up until then, if anyone had suggested that we could move our entire curriculum and student support online within a matter of weeks, I would have doubted their sanity. However, that is exactly what we achieved together so that our students could progress and, in the case of final year students, graduate.

After a long summer of extensive planning and collaboration by colleagues across the University, we welcomed students back to campus following yet another herculean effort! We had implemented a comprehensive reconfiguration of our estate, introduced new safety, health and behavioural measures and developed a strong, research-rich blended learning offer.

What followed, of course, was even more challenging. Regrettably, like nearly every university, Bristol saw a wave of student infections at the start of term. In response, we moved quickly to implement our COVID containment plans, support affected students and enable them to continue with their education. I am most grateful to our colleagues in local Public Health England for their invaluable expertise, support and partnership in managing this very challenging situation.

Thankfully, the number of cases among our students has fallen dramatically and we have seen no evidence of student-to-staff transmission, mirroring the pattern in other universities. I fully appreciate, however, that in-person teaching has been very challenging, given the need for social distancing and face coverings. The added difficulty of providing in-person teaching to some students, while simultaneously providing online education to their self-isolating classmates, is something that we had not fully anticipated.

Mobilising our research capability

Our COVID-19 research response has been as impressive as our transition to digital education. Bristol’s globally recognised expertise in virology, synthetic biology, aerosol science, vaccines, population health and clinical trials meant we were well placed to contribute to the global effort to understand and combat SARS-Cov-2.

Bristol was also one of the biggest recruiters to the successful Oxford vaccine trial and played a key role in trials demonstrating the efficacy of corticosteroids in severely ill hospitalised patients.

This inspiring research response to COVID-19 extended well beyond the STEMM disciplines – our social science colleagues’ important work identifying a surge in domestic violence during the pandemic being one of many examples of ground-breaking work that is already changing international policy and practice.

I am very grateful for the generous financial support of friends and alumni which funded much of this research.

Finally, a word on our civic response to COVID-19. I’ve spoken previously about the efforts of staff and students who have joined the NHS, manufactured PPE and produced hand sanitiser for distribution by the Local Resilience Forum. But we know the current public health situation continues to create a wide range of pressures for many of our partners and for communities across the city-region. In response, efforts like those headed by our Faculty of Social Sciences and Law have seen colleagues collaborate with local voluntary and community organisations. These partnerships are helping organisations understand the emerging needs of the community and build an evidence base to inform post-COVID recovery efforts.

And last, but certainly not least, Bristol’s students have also made a great contribution to our city, supporting those most in need and exemplifying the best civic traditions of our University. Most notably the Students’ Union has worked very effectively with Bristol City Council to target student volunteering efforts to best effect. This has seen students supporting foodbanks, helping vulnerable members of the community, fundraising, and providing free consultancy for charities responding to the pandemic.

Looking ahead to 2021

I sense a collective relief that the holiday season is approaching, and we are working closely with government, Public Health England and local city partners towards a staggered and safe return home of most students in time for the festive season.

Of course, we always have a significant number of international and, indeed, UK students staying on campus over the holidays and we anticipate having even more this year due to international travel restrictions and other COVID-related issues. I am extremely grateful to the many staff and Bristol SU colleagues who have been working so closely together to ensure that these students are supported during this period.

The past nine months have been like no other. We are hopeful that recent developments in testing technologies coupled with the learning from Teaching Block 1 (TB1) will improve the TB2 experience for both students and staff. Furthermore, the wonderful results from three vaccine trials in quick succession raise the very real prospect of a relatively normal 2021-22 academic year.

We might even dare to imagine what that new academic year could look like. I suspect we will want to retain much of our newly acquired capability in digital education to enrich our curriculum and, if cleverly woven in, to reduce staff workload. On the research front, there promises to be a surge in research opportunities for colleagues in the biomedical, life and population health sciences. In many other research areas, colleagues will have so much to contribute to economic and societal recovery (see below).

I am especially grateful to staff for being so understanding as to why we had to control spending so carefully during the pandemic. This prudent approach should position us well to invest in our research endeavour, as vaccines are rolled out and the virus is controlled.

I think we have all been worried that the enormous workload associated with the move to blended learning has inevitably reduced the time available for research, and it is critical that we rebalance our activities over the coming year if we are to continue to compete successfully with the world’s best research-intensive universities. I can assure colleagues that this will be a central theme in the refresh of our institutional strategy.

Supporting Bristol’s post-COVID recovery

As one of Bristol’s largest employers, the University contributes around £1 billion a year to the city-region economy and in 2018 supported more than 16,000 local jobs. Over the coming weeks and months, we will have a central role to play in supporting the city’s recovery post-COVID.

As a stakeholder in Bristol’s One City Plan, this means working closely with other regional organisations and local stakeholders to help support diverse, inclusive and more equitable communities.

It also means redoubling our efforts to promote innovation, jobs and enterprise and building on the track record of initiatives, like the National Composites Centre, SETsquared accelerator, Engine Shed and Unit DX. These hugely successful interventions have helped bring researchers, scientists, engineers, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors together; harnessing the city’s diversity, stimulating more enterprise activity and supporting new business creation, incubation and scale-up.

Our region is already home to one of the UK’s fastest-growing and most globally significant tech clusters, has one of the highest business start-up and survival rates among major UK cities, and enjoys globally recognised strengths in sectors such as aerospace, zero carbon and the creative industries. It is also renowned for innovation in AI, 5G, semiconductors, quantum, cyber security, robotics, haptics and data science.

Through major developments, partnerships and strategic initiatives, including the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, we are ready to play our full part in powering the city’s recovery, building on existing regional research and innovation strengths and driving future skills, job creation and growth opportunities.

Thank You

While we are not out of the woods yet (as demonstrated by the city’s designation to Tier 3), the COVID-19 vaccine trials are reason for considerable optimism. The winter months are likely to continue to be challenging, but we have now the very real prospect of a return to normality in time for the next academic year. I wish to thank our entire University of Bristol community and, indeed, our many partners, alumni, friends and supporters who have helped us navigate through an extraordinarily difficult situation since March, and whose continued support we will rely on over the period ahead. And, of course, I especially look forward to thanking each and every one of you in person in the not-too-distant future!

‘Stay safe, follow the rules and be respectful’- our message to Bristol’s student community

As we approach the new academic term, we remain committed to supporting our community and our city.  At this point in time, this includes being absolutely clear with our new and returning students that this will not be a normal academic year and there are very clear expectations relating to their behaviour.

Our message is simple – stay safe, follow the rules and be respectful.

Throughout the national lockdown, the overwhelming majority of students followed the government’s public health guidance. We expect they will continue to do so in the months ahead.

From the very start of the COVID pandemic, staff and students at UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol have worked tirelessly to help fight the virus and this work continues. From world-leading medical research into testing and vaccine development, to policy research around domestic violence and public health guidance – our universities have focused their collective expertise and state-of-the-art facilities to help Bristol address the challenges posed by coronavirus and, ultimately, save lives.

This collective institutional effort has seen hundreds of students and staff join the NHS as doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. University accommodation and free parking has been offered to front-line NHS staff. Vast amounts of personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer has been manufactured and donated to front-line services. An army of student volunteers has supported foodbanks and provided much-needed support to the most vulnerable. UWE’s Frenchay Campus hosted Bristol’s NHS Nightingale Hospital and a Public Health England testing centre is now open to the public at the University of Bristol’s Victoria Rooms car park on Queens Road.

However, we recognise and understand the concerns our community will have about the return of students over the next few weeks.  To help with this, a huge amount of planning has gone into ensuring their return to Bristol is as Covid-secure as possible and that they can have a great experience in our city without putting themselves, or others, at risk.

Both universities have introduced a comprehensive range of measures to minimise the potential transmission of the virus. For example, to avoid mass gatherings, we are offering a blended approach to education which comprises both online and small group in-person teaching. Large-scale lectures will not take place and our physical estates have been reconfigured to allow for maximum social distancing.   New student arrivals will be staggered over several weeks. Staff and students will be given face coverings for use on campus and we have robust systems in place to identify cases of COVID-19 as early as possible, support affected individuals, and minimise any risk of further infection.

Elsewhere, this year’s Freshers’ events will be mostly held online, with both Students’ Unions having worked incredibly hard to create a mix of high-quality online and in-person events that comply with all government guidelines. Importantly, large gatherings and house parties are not permitted in university halls or private rented accommodation. While some individual students may be tempted to join such gatherings, we are clear this behaviour is unacceptable.

We take our responsibilities to our community very seriously and we have clear systems in place to respond to student misconduct on and off campus. Most recently, we have worked closely with Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset Police to agree a joint approach to COVID-19 rule enforcement. Given the seriousness of the threat posed by the virus, both universities are committed to taking swift disciplinary action against any student found to be in breach of the rules. Such violations may also be a criminal offence and will be dealt with appropriately.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to represent an unprecedented challenge to public health. In response, both UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol are working closely with partners across the city to mitigate risk and keep our communities safe.

Bristol’s students are such an important part of the life, culture and economy of our great city. We hope permanent residents will find our joint approach to the new academic year reassuring and will continue to give a characteristically warm Bristol welcome to our students over the coming weeks.

We know that many of our students feel understandably very upset about the present situation. They are deeply concerned about their own personal health and they are worried about negative portrayals of young people in the media and the suggestion they alone are responsible for the rise in nationwide COVID infections.

We are confident that the vast majority of students will continue to do the right thing, to follow the rules, and to act as considerate and conscientious neighbours within their communities, but if you see or experience unacceptable student behaviour in your community, please report it via UWE’s Community Liaison Team:; or the University of Bristol’s Community Team:

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Bristol

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor and President, UWE Bristol